Sarah Brooks’ teaching and design practice sits at the intersection of design research, service design, and social innovation. She currently serves as a Design Executive and Distinguished Designer at IBM.
Sarah was appointed the first Chief Design Officer at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in 2016 following her participation in the 2014-2015 class of U.S. Presidential Innovation Fellows under President Barack Obama. Sarah and her teams’ work on behalf of Veterans at the V.A. has been featured in the New York Times, Wired, Fast Company, and more. She serves on the National Board of Directors at AIGA and is on the Board of Directors of the Buckminster Fuller Institute.
With a background in human-centered, entrepreneurial design practices and the ability to pioneer transformational change, Sarah brings a depth of expertise in design leadership across her writing, speaking, and thinking. At IBM, her leadership focuses on building a design team that’s bringing a service design lens to IBM’s digital experiences. She loves traveling around the world and has delivered more than 300 talks and workshops on building great design cultures, understanding complex organizations, and shifting how we think about design.
Prior to IBM, and her government service, Sarah established and led a Design for Social Innovation practice at Hot Studio, an experience design studio in San Francisco that was acquired by Facebook in 2014. Immediately afterwards, she taught as a guest lecturer at Stanford University’s d.school and worked on increasing transparency through the seafood supply chain, until she was invited to join the U.S. Presidential Innovation Fellows program.
Sarah is deeply committed to a more resilient world that works, in the words of Buckminster Fuller, “for 100% of humanity.” This means taking a nuanced approach to understanding how people work across scales, time, and contexts. It’s not enough to have a big vision (although visionary thinking matters, too): sometimes, the heart of social change lies within each individual, and what matters more is the subtle texture of change that happens when we listen deeply to each part and player within a system. Throughout her career, she has seen that collaborations between designers and communities that are experts in their own contexts can make real, lasting positive change.
Sarah’s work highlights
In 2018, Sarah began her mission as a Distinguished Designer, Digital Journeys to readjust how work is done at IBM.
Sarah presented a PechaKucha about Complexity at EPIC 2018: Evidence in Honolulu. “We have to solve for whole systems, including the margins…”
“We used a co-design approach… During my time at VA, we applied and taught design practices through the Veterans Health and Veterans Benefit administrations alongside the dedicated civil servants working to support Veterans.”