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A day in the McKinsey Design life: Lea

Lea inline

– I have been with LUNAR by McKinsey (now McKinsey Design) since 1998, and I’ve never experienced a typical day. I often cannot predict the tasks I’ll do more than a few days in advance. I never feel boxed into one type of work or area; I thrive being constantly stimulated, able to grow and learn. I love the excitement, element of surprise, and countless opportunities to step up and learn new things. However, to give you a sense of what working for McKinsey is like, here’s my “typical” day:

Kicking off my day
It starts with what might be a bad habit: I check email the moment I wake up so I can address any urgent issues and respond to any clients or internal team members who are in Europe or on the East Coast and need clarification or quick feedback to get their days moving forward.

Then, I enjoy my breakfast, complete with a cup of coffee made from locally roasted beans with my French press. The caffeine kick gets me going. I check my calendar and jot down my game plan for the day on a half sheet (which forces me to keep it succinct). Based on how I want to structure the day, I think through how to best engage my team, clarify what we need to accomplish by the end of the day, and plan towards the next major milestone. It is a sacred moment of reflection and a chance to push for the most impact we can provide.

Around 9:30 am (unless I have early meetings), I hop on my two-speed bike and pedal from the Mission to the office on Potrero. Taking side roads, I can make it in five to seven minutes.

Collaborating with my team
At the office, I connect with my project team, which usually includes:

  • a few industrial designers
  • a design researcher (in the earlier stages of a project)
  • a project manager
  • a technical lead from engineering (who might be involved lightly up front, but more heavily once the project gets into the industrial design phase)
  • an account manager (who helps craft the broader vision for the project, strategically partners with the client, and mentors me)
  • a generalist consultant and engagement manager, who are the glue between us and the client, technical experts who size markets and business opportunities, design to value engineers who tear down products to understand the multiple facets of cost impact, quantitative researchers, and senior leaders who bring expertise from their many years as consultants

My role is to lead the industrial designers through the design stages, ranging from participating in initial research to developing strategy and articulating design intent as our engineers write manufacturing instructions. I connect the dots, inspire the team and craft the vision for the product so whatever we’re creating delights the intended end users.

Collaborating with the other project managers, design researchers, strategists and engineers on the broader team allows me to see the bigger picture. Each of us has slightly different responsibilities and perspectives, so we each notice different nuances. When we come together effectively we develop much better solutions to the overarching question at hand.

Co-creating inspiring products
Here, I’ve worked on a variety of stimulating projects including large radiotherapy instruments, tiny infrared cameras, new products for the beauty industry, and a visual brand language for an optical fiber communications company. Sometimes I work on one at a time; other times, I’m supporting multiple projects at once. Right now, I’m working on a small kitchen appliance.

My team room is filled with a plethora of models; some are torn down, others are fully functional. White boards and foam core posters with designs surround us. It’s a playroom of stimuli. The garage style environment has become our new norm. It really speeds up communication, enhances the exchange of ideas and brings us closer as human beings. I really enjoy this close-knit working style and get enormously excited to co-create with my multi-disciplinary team.

Lunch is when I come up for air. My immediate team joins the rest of the McKinsey team at the communal lunch table. We have a long farm table where we gather to eat lunch we pick up from the many yummy places around our neighborhood or bring from home. I really enjoy catching up with other folks who are engaged in different projects. The diversity of my colleagues always amazes me; we hail from so many cultural backgrounds and nationalities. There is a great gender balance and I have a deep respect for all the ladies at McKinsey, who inspire each other and own up to any challenge.

Espresso and dancing
Espresso with lots of hot milk gets me through the afternoon. I might prepare a PowerPoint presentation for a client, focusing on how to convey our messages and ideas succinctly and powerfully. I love bringing the story to life, showing off the beautiful work the designers have created, grounded by research and backed up by business assessments.

Around 7pm, I wrap up my work and get on my bike to fly home (all downhill now). My partner Dan – my true guru in this life – and I live in a 1923 warehouse. He rebuilt the entire mezzanine that overlooks the main floor. It’s empowering to live in a space we’ve fully customized to our tastes and needs.

The downstairs is still a work in progress, but we have put in a wooden dance floor. This serves as a weekly stomping ground for me and two women from my flamenco dance group, Misión Flamenco, who join me every Thursday for a rehearsal. Stomping out the kinks of the day to a twelve-count rhythm always helps me cleanse my mind and recharge.

Around 11pm, lights out after a last peek at my Instagram feed.

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About Lea
Lea is a San Francisco-based creative director with McKinsey Design. She specializes in industrial design, helping develop consumer, medical, and industrial products. Lea holds a bachelor's in industrial design from the Art Center College of Design.