– Earlier this month, digital design veteran Collin Cole joined McKinsey’s experience design team as Vice President. In the 1990s, Collin founded frog design’s digital practice. He joins McKinsey from Carbon12 Creative, an Austin, Texas, design firm where he was CEO. Collin’s former Carbon12 colleagues are also joining us, adding studios in Austin and Mumbai to our global design footprint.
We spoke with Collin about design, consulting, and why he was excited to make the move.
What does “design thinking” mean to you?
Design has matured from brand-driven visual styling to human-centered problem solving. For me, design thinking combines top-down business analysis with bottom-up technical possibilities, while adding a deep consideration for the actual people who will be touched by the solution. It involves end users as a fundamental part of the process to discover and serve their unmet needs.
It’s not enough to make things that look great. It’s also not enough to just “design for the end user.” In a business context, implementing great design must engage all parts of a company to rethink its core products and services. So design thinking is not just for designers. It’s a multi-disciplinary process that brings together business people, technologists, operations, designers, and end users.
How does working at a consulting firm like McKinsey compare to a design studio?
I’ve worked in design studios for 30 years and would say they are great for cultivating creativity. But even the best agencies have blind spots, making them believe design alone can solve every problem. They often enter the picture too late to shape what a client truly needs and exit without a clear plan to develop and operationalize the solution. The great thing about McKinsey is that it looks at opportunities from all angles and works at the highest levels of client organizations.
So far I’ve been impressed with how nimble and entrepreneurial McKinsey is, despite being 90 years old! It’s amazing to see the firm’s ability to change and adapt. The acquisition of LUNAR was a signal that McKinsey is serious about bringing top design talent to its clients.
Why do you think your design colleagues from Carbon12 also opted to join McKinsey’s Digital team?
Joining McKinsey is an amazing opportunity for all of us. It’s a chance to help grow and shape McKinsey's work in this space, and define what design means for some of the world’s leading organizations.
Designers by nature are passionate, idealistic, and optimistic people. We want to do meaningful work that makes a difference.
With Carbon12 colleagues joining us, we have added design studios in Austin and in Mumbai. Why are these two locations important for McKinsey?
In the 30 years I’ve been in Austin, I’ve seen it change from a somewhat sleepy college town and state capital to today’s explosion of growth. Austin has all the ingredients for innovation—a robust startup scene, big name tech companies, large universities with extensive research programs, and a deep commitment to the arts. Austin is consistently ranked at the top of “most livable” and “best cities for work” lists. With SXSW and other major industry events, it’s become a destination for some of the world's best design talent, and that's what we commit to bring to our clients.
Mumbai is a gateway to the most amazing growth opportunities of the next 50 years. Our Mumbai studio is perfectly positioned to serve India, as well as the rest of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. We have the opportunity to build a team that combines best practices of design and consulting with a deep, native understanding of these high-growth regions.
Why is digital design such an exciting area to be in right now?
Digital technologies are creating change across all industries—how businesses and people interact, communicate, and work. Design helps identify and shape those opportunities. It puts a human lens on technology, making it accessible, meaningful, and more personal.
Uber is a great example of this crossover between digital and design. It uses a set of digital technologies and mobile communications to connect drivers and customers —without the traditional overhead of real estate, fleet assets, or driver employees. And yet, it has disrupted and redefined an entire industry. Design helped to see that potential and define how it would fit into people’s lives, all while meeting a need that might have been hard for users to articulate before the solution was put into their hands. Digital technology enabled the opportunity, and design brought it to life.
Why are design capabilities and design thinking critical areas for companies today?
It’s a cliché but it’s true: We’re living in a world of rapid change, where steady growth and incremental improvements aren’t enough. Companies need to think differently, work differently, and serve customers in new ways. Design is a great catalyst. It helps us reframe problems and discover exciting new opportunities.