UX Design | Strategy | Industrial Design
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IBM HMC Mobile

UX Design

IBM HMC Mobile

UX Design

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IBM Z mainframes sit in data centers around the world providing the digital infrastructure for much of the modern world. Every time you swipe your credit card, take a flight, or use your insurance, chances are your data or transaction went through an IBM mainframe.

The Administrators who keep mainframes running have a stressful and demanding job where system failures mean millions of dollars lost and customers frustrated. IBM HMC Mobile gives Admins the ability to monitor and manage their systems from anywhere, anytime, and with full control over their security.



I was the lead UX Designer on this project on a team of six Designers and Developers. I also helped define the visual language with our Visual Designer and create prototypes for user testing with our Design Researcher. 


The Ask

This project started as a challenge from an executive who envisioned a mobile app for mainframe Admins to monitor their systems. Other stakeholders had opinions on what the product should be, so it was up to us to talk to users and find the real needs.


The Journey

To kick off the project, we had a workshop to align design, engineering, and business on a common vision. 


Our agenda for the workshop.


After we'd aligned on the business and user needs, we started talking to IBM mainframe users. Our goal was to test existing assumptions and discover the true user and business needs. I've picked two of our biggest challenges to take you through.


Challenge 1: "We'd never use a mobile app"

Our biggest challenge initially was users not trusting their security to a mobile app. We acknowledged this, but encouraged them to think past the issue and talk about what they would use the app for if security wasn't a problem. Most had a hard time imagining anything. 

"We're more boots on the ground, it's hard to envision an HMC doing more than it does today." - IBM customer

To generate discussion, we created wireframes to show to users. The wireframes generated deeper conversations that revealed their ideas, wants, and needs.


Early wireframes used to generate feedback and conversations with users.


Realizing the balance of perceived security and value had to be addressed, we built a demo into onboarding experience to allow users to experience and understand the value themselves. This ended up being one of the most impactful design decisions we made.


Challenge 2: Complex software to a simple mobile app

Our biggest challenge was that users currently rely on the desktop Hardware Management Console (HMC) to do their job. The HMC gives users access to every component, setting, and detail on their systems. This meant figuring out most essential parts and distilling them into a mobile app. 


The desktop application our app is based on.


Through our research we found three areas to focus on: status, details, and actions.


Our users' biggest need was the ability to monitor and be notified of status changes so they know if something is wrong when they're away from their desk. We gave users full control over their notifications by designing a granular notification system to meet their needs. 


From left to right: home screen with list of systems, list of partitions in a system, notifications.



Through our research we discovered the details our users needed access to. To design the navigation hierarchy, we mirrored our users' existing mental models and flattened the hierarchy when feasible. This reduced the learning curve and made it quick to find relevant information. 

“Instead of booting up the HMC, I would pick up my iPhone, which would be faster, to get an answer.” - User testing a prototype

From left to right: system details, partition details, OS messages list, OS message.



We shipped with a limited set of management actions that we knew users would use while away from their desk. To help users feel more secure, we included multiple confirmation steps to avoid accidents. 


From left to right: confirmation, profile selection, authentication, and result screens.


Website & App Store Content

Because we were introducing users to the idea of managing their systems from a mobile app, we wanted to tell the story to them in a way that would resonate with them. To do this we created a website and the content on the iOS App Store and Google Play Store to tell a cohesive story that's mirrored when using the app for the first time.

Visit website


iOS App Store and Google Play Store images.



The feedback from users so far has been mostly positive, with the occasional bug fix. This quote from one of our users who helped us design the app sums it up perfectly.

“I can’t wait to get this on my personal device... it’s more convenient [and] faster to get an answer. The learning curve is great, there isn’t one!” - User testing a near production version