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Q&A with Hyo Yeon and Jennifer Kilian

Hyo Yeon, digital partner, and Jennifer Killian, digital vice president, bring a ‘design thinking’ approach to developing products, experiences and businesses for our clients.

Why is design a strategic capability that is growing in influence and prominence?

The proliferation and speed with which digital tech has enabled direct access to just about everything for consumers demand that companies more actively adopt an outside-in perspective.

At its core, design—and design thinking—is about empathizing with people, understanding their needs and motivations, and creating solutions in your products and services. Awesome technology and sheer computing power is no longer enough to win in the marketplace; neither is incremental optimization of existing models. Design is a way to play in the space of real transformation and disruption, and it’s all driven by user and customer behaviors.

What do business leaders need to understand about design?

Design is not just about making something look good, it is also about understanding the target audiences’ needs and expectations and the motivations that drive behavior—and creating products and services that respond. It’s important to note that now, more than ever, expectations are being set by experiences that are not always within the same sector; they are set by the portfolio of experiences that make up the day of your customer. Don’t look at other banks if you are a bank, look at other core services that people use: the telephone, utilities, media, travel, and productivity, for example.

Design and the design process need to be at the core of the company, at the senior-most levels. The design process needs to be intertwined with the business and technology processes from the beginning.

It’s important to be comfortable with qualitative insights on which to base decisions. We believe that the most successful products are the ones that have established a strong emotional connection with the customer.

Why do you think designers are joining McKinsey?

Historically, design has been associated with product teams, R&D, or even IT organizations. Accessing and truly playing a part in transformative business strategy has been very difficult. We have many personal experiences serving clients where a huge portion of the team’s time and energy was spent trying to elevate our discussions to the C-suite. Joining McKinsey eliminates this barrier completely. The result is that we can do effective work—for entire companies and sectors.

In addition to access, designers are great at solving challenging service-design problems at scale. Being at McKinsey means we get to work across industries and with governments and the public sector to affect broad change—change that is aligned with a sound organizational strategy and the best technical thinking.

Meet our people

Jennifer Kilian

Digital Partner, New York

Hyo Yeon

Digital Partner, New York


Digital Labs

Digital Labs enables organizations to capture new value from digital—creating products, experiences, and businesses through new capabilities.