Sarah Brooks’ teaching and design practice sits at the intersection of research, social impact, and regenerative futures. She currently serves as a Design Executive and IBM Distinguished Designer.
Sarah was appointed the first Chief Design Officer at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in 2016 based on her work as a co-founder of the Veterans Experience Office 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.
With a background in life-centered, entrepreneurial, intrepreneurial 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 tools and practices that support product teams across the enterprise. 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. Rather than go to Facebook, Sarah began working with the Future of Fish effort to increase transparency and traceability through the seafood supply chain and taught as a guest lecturer at Stanford University’s d.school until she was invited to join the U.S. Presidential Innovation Fellows program.
Sarah is deeply committed to a more regenerative world that works, in Buckminster Fuller’s words, “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-ecological-economic change lies within each individual. 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 is an active mentor and has served on the National Board of Directors for AIGA and the Buckminster Fuller Institute.
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.”