Inside McKinsey Design’s Salone Symposium

Having just wrapped up its 58th year, the legendary Salone del Mobile or Milan Design Week is an extraordinary opportunity for the global design community to gather and glean inspiration from around the world. In fact, 370,000 design professionals plus a staggering 25,000 members of the public stopped by this April. A team of McKinsey designers also made the trip to Salone where we hosted a panel discussion around our pioneering research on “The Business Value of Design,” and constructed an installation showcasing our design process.

Six months ago we launched our report, "The Business Value of Design", in one of the world’s business capitals, New York City. It was fitting for us to now present in Milan, one of the world’s foremost design capitals. Our intention was to convene around a mix of thought leadership as well as hands-on interaction, providing attendees with the opportunity to learn first-hand about the ways that physical and digital design can have quantifiable impact across a range of industries.

The panel discussion was chaired by Dezeen Founder and Editor-in-Chief Marcus Fairs, who was joined by Ivy Ross (VP Design for Hardware for Google), Jakob Lange (Partner at Bjarke Ingels Group; Head of BIG Ideas), Ben Sheppard (Partner at McKinsey Design London), Gianluca Brugnoli (Executive Design Director, McKinsey Design Milan), and Hanna Stuever (Founder of Retail Portfolio Solutions).

Sheppard opened the morning’s discussion by summarizing the key findings of the report, which accumulated more than 2 million pieces of financial data and recorded more than 100,000 design actions. He said it revolved around four key clusters: that design is: more than a feeling, more than a department, more than a phase and more than a product.

“While many of us here in Milan know these are common sense, they are not yet common practice,” said Sheppard. “If our study works, if people talk about these four elements, then we will see better products in the market, which will drive growth and therefore make the world a better place.”

Inside McKinsey Design’s Salone Symposium
Inside McKinsey Design’s Salone Symposium

The Changing Definition of Design

The panel discussion opened with a reflection on the massive shift taking place in the design and business worlds, moving from creating products, to now creating experiences and services. This change is having a profound impact on the role of designers in business and society.

Ivy Ross, who started her career in craft and design, agreed with this evolution. “Designers have a sense of where things are moving,” she said. This skill should be utilized beyond design and wider problem solving, she made clear. “Creativity and design are about thinking in a very structured way and designers should apply their approach to big social and governmental problems too.”

Design ‘thinking’ meets design ‘doing’

Inside McKinsey Design’s Salone Symposium
Inside McKinsey Design’s Salone Symposium

Alongside the panel discussion our team designed and installed an exhibition showcasing the McKinsey Design prototyping process. We selected a handful of products and digital experiences, including the Speedglas welding helmet (a Red Dot award winning product) and the crowd-pleasing Belle-V ice-cream scoop. Kim Mingo, an Experience Design Director in McKinsey Milan who helped to facilitate the installation reflected that, “What was most exciting for me was that we were able to reveal our design process with participants and help them understand how you move from concept to production.”

The Meaning of Design

Inside McKinsey Design’s Salone Symposium
Inside McKinsey Design’s Salone Symposium

At the conclusion of the event, Marcus Fairs asked the panel guests what design means to them:

Ben Sheppard said, “design is about deeply understanding your customer’s or user’s needs and developing solutions to meet these needs.” This does not prescribe whether the solution must be physical, digital, or a combination of the two.

Jakob Lange said good design is a very simple and very difficult thing to measure. “It is about that feeling,” he said.

Hanna Struever said design is timeless. “It gets people interacting and communicating. Tech needs to enhance this, not replace it.”

Finally, Ivy Ross said design is about solving problems beautifully -- a deliberately human term. “I have seen an algorithm design a chair. It’s an incredible time saving device. But what we need to do is then spend that time doing the things only humans can do, which is beauty.”

Now that’s certainly something we can all agree on.

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