OUTSIDE CONSULTING is the secret sauce of the business world, and the companies that provide it are always tweaking their recipes. This month, McKinsey and Co. serves up McKinsey Design, offering hands-on creative solutions to complement its strategic services. The company has acquired two independent design firms, Lunar in San Francisco and Veryday in Stockholm, and has already developed products including diabetes managements tools, interactive mirrors, and rocking chairs that convert to bassinets. “The world is instantly connected now. You’re going to be compared globally in terms of experience, price and performance,” says Ben Sheppard, one of the leaders of the new division, which launches in New York City on October 25. “Things that used to be separate in the business world are converging, and the consumer’s experience has to be seamless. Service plus digital plus physical. That is not easy to deliver.”
Sheppard, who is based in London, has led a five-year study that surveys the “design behavior” of 300 global companies and co-authored a data-heavy article linking design-led practices with profit—while underlining how tough both can be to realize. The paper is intended not for the design community, he points out, but for those occupying the corner office. “The design community will say, ‘We’ve been extolling these ideas for decades,’ but this is for business leadership,” he says. “Out of hundreds of actions we measured, it comes up with 12 to improve performance.” Among them are convening cross-functional teams; testing, refining and iterating throughout the process; and focusing on the full user experience.
McKinsey isn’t the only consultancy getting into the game. Accenture bought the London design studio Fjord in 2013, and Boston Consulting Group acquired Pittsburgh’s Maya last year. Differences in company culture and focus have emerged, but then so have synergies: with the consultancies’ advanced data analysis and digital services, for instance. There’s reason to think McKinsey’s C-suite design campaign may have real-world impact. Of the McKinsey group, Sheppard says, “These are people with the same somewhat obsessive desire we have—to hand in not just any piece of homework, but the best piece possible.”