IBM Lite Plan


IBM Lite Plan


Brendan Fitzpatrick, Cameron Sandage, Janhavi Das, Courtney Bittner, Jenifer Schlotfeldt, Arn Hyndman, Nancy Ching, Adam Lavigne and Hilton Lim
Role: Lead Visual, UX/UI Design

project details

While designing this experience, I was part of an incredibly talented multi-disciplinary team. As we got into a high-functioning Agile process we were able to quickly iterate. As we tested our designs and ideas, we fell into a great sprint rhythm over the next few years with a lot of great co-creation and seamless handoffs. As more of the product went live, we continued to user test and constantly used that feedback to improve fidelities ranging from paper prototypes to live code. I did a lot of low fidelity (sketches and doodles) and high fidelity wire-framing (Invision) throughout this project.


How might we help users familiarize themselves with IBM Cloud for longer than 30 days, without having to submit their credit card as well as focus on developing new solutions?

User problems:

  • 30 days is not enough time to determine if IBM Cloud is the right platform.

  • Users don't understand how to find related resources across the platform, resulting in a time consuming and frustrating work flow.

  • The complexity of IBM Cloud is causing confusion for customers and they are hesitant to try out the platform due to unknown costs and expectations.


Investigate: Pre-reflection of problem space • Market and UX Research • Define user motivations
Make: Craft optimal story that provides user value • Sketch wireframes •  Develop UI and identity • Rapidly prototype, test, and iterate
Ideate: Turn insights into design decisions • Craft an optimal to-be scenario • Test scenarios with users • Alignment with product team
Valuate: Define key metrics for success • Map user value with ease of implementation • Develop product roadmap • Reflection


Due to the complexity of a new account type, we had to continue research while we designed and with our new learnings, we iterated. We often used used Full Story (recorded sessions to see user pain points and errors in real time, and A/B testing. We also had regular checkpoints with our stakeholders and subject matter experts to make sure our solutions were feasible and to improve them at each iteration.


To successfully implement a freemium acquisition model, we knew that we needed to to place limitations on certain aspects of our plan. If users are able to get all of the value that they need from your free plan, there is obviously no incentive for them to upgrade to a paid account. But how could we achieve this without frustrating our users? We needed to give free users a taste for the value of the platform through the limited features, but create enough friction that anyone looking to become more than just a casual user will likely upgrade to remove the limitations. Using research and user feedback, we tested three main concepts with our users:

  • Access to usage capped plans for select services such as Watson and the Internet of Things (IoT).

  • Usage quotas: efficiency features, such as auto sleep and garbage collection to manage resources.

  • Usage tracking and cap alerts that notify users when they’re approaching data thresholds.

We also knew that our users need more incentive to upgrade because of the complexity and high price associated with the Cloud platform. We had to find subtle ways to remind users that they are on a Lite plan and that they have the option to upgrade to a paid account with fewer restrictions. We achieved this by sketching, designing and iterating ideas around:

  • In-app notifications highlighting specific points of limitation for free-users.

  • Upgrade calls-to-action in the UI and an email messages.

  • Periodic email notifications that remind users what they could be getting with a paid plan.


  • We created, designed and implemented a new IBM Cloud plan known as IBM Cloud Lite. Users can have quick and easy access to AI services and runtimes to build their cloud apps fast, free, and with an account that doesn’t expire.

  • With IBM Cloud Lite, users can take as much time as they need to familiarize themselves with the IBM Cloud, and there’s no need to submit a credit card in advance.

Even after launching IBM Cloud Lite, we continue to track and monitor the current experience in the platform and iterate. We work continuously improving discoverability and broadening appeal to new users.


  • Designing an experience from the ground up, while working with restraints, is not easy.

  • Embrace the complex. Our scope kept expanding as more and more technical requirements and user needs emerged. Compounding this, plus the vision of the platform for a whole suite of products added another dimension to consider.