I’ve wanted to be a designer since I was 10. I’ve held roles as a creative director at Apple, Intuit and IBM, and led the NYC office at Hot Studio, a design firm that was acquired by Facebook, but I craved more strategic and large-scale work that blended business, design, and tech to create meaningful transformational change.
I joined McKinsey as an associate partner after more than 20 years in the industry. After being at the firm for about a year and a half, I was invited to apply for partner.
I took part in a McKinsey-sponsored leadership program for women on the partnership track, where I learned more about the firm’s values, the skills I’d need to be an effective partner, and how to communicate the value of my work. I’ve always held the firm’s trainings in high regard–they’re some of the best I’ve seen in my career. The next year, I became partner.
I’m a huge empath and believe in people-first design. One of my favorite engagement types are our Leap by McKinsey projects, which harness our colleagues’ intelligence and the power of the firm to build new businesses from scratch.
Reimagining real estate
About a year ago, I started on a Leap project with RXR Realty, a North American real estate investor and developer. We examined what could be possible in terms of translating best-in-class technology and data to real estate and turbocharging the future of real estate, for residents, tenants, property developers, and operators.
This project had a deep ethnographic research component. We used generative and participatory design research approaches. Interviews with residents, tenants, and office managers helped us understand the unmet needs and pain points of all the people using the buildings in various ways. For example, we found that pet care was lower on the residents’ priority list than other services like custom cleaning. This allowed us to integrate the users’ experience with strategy, technology, and data.
By the end of the blueprint phase, we identified many new ways to improve resident’s living experiences. One outcome was designing a digital concierge application and service. Residents could use the app to access all their building benefits, like cleaning services, childcare services, payments, maintenance, and last-foot delivery.
We brought design and tech into the fold early on, and ran every team, including the non-technical teams like service operations, in two-week agile sprints. With every sprint we tested our application, starting with sketches, then low-fidelity screen work and prototypes built using Sketch, Photoshop, Illustrator, and InVision, which is a prototyping tool to test an app’s user experience without having to code each screen from HTML.
The amazing data analysts helped us define key performance indicators, third-party integrations, and payment processing systems. As we progressed in the project, we built on RXR’s existing commercial and residential data to build amazing profiles and identify valuable information, like indicators of whether a resident was likely to renew a lease or move out.
We also helped RXR build a world-class internal team of designers, engineers, and product managers, who can continue to scale the organization’s digital capabilities. We worked so closely with the RXR team that we felt like one unit. I held regular one-on-ones with everyone on the team, including our non-tech colleagues. The collaborative and people-first nature of the project made it one of the best I’ve ever worked on.
Advice for recruits
The world is in a state of change, and in these uncertain times, business strategy isn’t enough. We need designers to offer empathetic, human-first perspectives and solutions. I’m very excited about the work designers are doing at the firm. We have more than 140 projects focused on COVID-19 relief, and I’m working with our small business coalition to help improve livelihoods across the United States.
Now, more than ever, diversity and inclusion is paramount. No matter your background or the level at which you join the firm, we want you to feel heard and seen. We all have a responsibility to be allies for all our colleagues.
Designers can offer a much-needed perspective to every project. Sometimes I see engineers, data scientists and designers speak up and participate in conversations around their topical expertise, but sometimes they don’t speak up outside their comfort zone. My advice is to lean in, participate in everything fully, and engage broadly. You each have a valuable perspective and one we want to hear.
Jennifer is a McKinsey partner in New York. She leads the McKinsey experience design team, which integrates the best business and data practices with forward-thinking, customer-led, transformational design. Prior to joining McKinsey, she was a creative director at firms including IBM, Apple, Intuit, and frog, and leader of the NYC office of the design agency Hot Studio, which was acquired by Facebook during her tenure. Jennifer earned her bachelor’s in graphic and industrial design at Carnegie Mellon University and her master’s in interactive telecommunications at New York University.
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