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Integrating Design Thinking and Business Strategy

EDI students collaborate with 3M as part of Design Strategy course

Professor Greg Holderfield (right) speaks with EDI students during a Design Strategy class.Professor Greg Holderfield (right) speaks with EDI students during a Design Strategy class.
(Right to left) Neha Kodi poses with her teammates Abby Lammers and Hannah Miller (all EDI '19).(Right to left) Neha Kodi poses with her teammates Abby Lammers and Hannah Miller (all EDI '19).
Beatriz Alessio (EDI '19) speaks with Sara Gnolek (EDI '19) during class (left to right).Beatriz Alessio (EDI '19) speaks with Sara Gnolek (EDI '19) during class (left to right).
(Left to right) Jelani Roberts and Joanne Hsu (both EDI '19) speak with employees from 3M.(Left to right) Jelani Roberts and Joanne Hsu (both EDI '19) speak with employees from 3M.
(Left to right) Alyssa Brown, John Welch, and Bradley Sedor (all EDI '19) pose with their work in Design Strategy.(Left to right) Alyssa Brown, John Welch, and Bradley Sedor (all EDI '19) pose with their work in Design Strategy.
Professor Greg Holderfield (left) listens to EDI student Sara Gnolek discuss her work.Professor Greg Holderfield (left) listens to EDI student Sara Gnolek discuss her work.

Master’s students in Northwestern’s Engineering Design Innovation (EDI) program developed oral health services and products for the company 3M as part of a course called DSGN 455: Design Strategy.

The class was divided into teams, with each team assigned one of three challenges to address while leveraging the 3M Oral Care ecosystem. The challenges were tied to creating a personalized end-to-end patient experience, enhancing the 3M brand within that patient experience, and supporting patients in taking control of their life-long oral health with 3M products and services as their ally. 

Professor Greg Holderfield"The challenge space of oral care is a difficult one initially for the students because it doesn't jump out at them as an immediate service solution or a product development solution," said Professor Greg Holderfield, director of the Segal Design Institute, who teaches the course. "It's a product that is incredibly personal. But it also disappears, right? It's a wearable in your mouth and it goes away. So, [EDI students] needed to think about what that means from the service aspect and what does that mean for the business 3M itself, which is a technology company that's looking to play more of a prominent role in the consumer space." 

Throughout the spring term, EDI students developed proposals for the Maplewood, Minnesota-based company while working closely with design and business leaders at 3M. 

Judy Ma, 3M"As we began to think about the future of our Oral Care portfolio, we knew we needed fresh perspectives to reimagine the user experience," said Juda Ma, UX Creative Director at 3M. "Some of the most promising consumer-facing products in our portfolio are also targeted at millennial and young adult consumers, making this work a great fit for a collaboration with EDI students."

During the course, EDI students were expected to create three sets of proposals corresponding to "step," "stretch," and "leap" expectations. 

"For many of the EDI students, it's the first time they've thought about connecting human-centered design and technology to a greater entity," said Holderfield. "One of the feedback points that we got from 3M over and over again was how we exceeded their expectations in understanding their organization and connecting solutions to their brand while also giving them choices in terms of scalability. That was really due to a significant emphasis on design strategy. It's very different than just taking a UI/UX course or a Design Research course or a Product Design course. I'm expecting EDI students to come [into the course] with baseline skills in all those areas and now we're amplifying them and tying it all to a business strategy."

Collaboration between EDI and 3M

The class provided EDI students with the opportunity to collaborate closely with Ma and her colleagues Jessica Dugan, Design Principal for Healthcare at 3M Design, Beth Edgar, Global Business Director—3M Oral Care, and Tom Worm, Global Business Leader for Digital Platform.

Ma, Dugan, Edgar, and Worm worked with Holderfield to frame challenges for the course before the term began. They visited campus twice—for a kickoff event in the third week of the term and then to hear research findings and opportunity framing from the students in the sixth week. In between visits, Ma and Dugan were in frequent contact with the students to better inform their journey. 

Neha Kodi (EDI '19) found the opportunity to interact with industry leaders to be especially valuable.

Neha Kodi (EDI '19)"It’s one thing to learn about design thinking in a classroom and an entirely different thing to be presented with the opportunity to work with a prominent company in a very real context," said Kodi. "Exposure is an incredibly valuable asset to me as a graduate student pursuing a career in human-centered design, and that’s exactly what the opportunity to work with 3M has granted me. The experience I’ve gained from this course and in working with 3M is one I can speak to on many levels as a designer, a strategist, an aspiring consultant, and a teammate."

The students traveled to 3M Headquarters in Minnesota to deliver their final presentations for company employees working in the oral care space. 

Ma commended the EDI students for their quick learning throughout the collaboration.

"They were fast in understanding the background, the scope of the project, and what we are looking for," said Ma. "EDI students are highly motivated and capable of approaching a project using systems thinking. That allowed them to solve a problem by broadening their thinking and helped them to articulate problems in new and different ways."

Designing Approaches for Challenges

Kodi and her teammates approached the challenge of supporting patients in taking control of their lifelong oral health by conducting design research. They interviewed patients and providers and then integrated their findings with market research about the industry. 

"Through synthesizing our research, my team focused in on how 3M could become more of a consumer-facing brand by empowering young adults to take ownership of their oral health while building better relationships with oral care providers," said Kodi. 

Her classmate Beatriz Alessio (EDI ‘19) was part of a team addressing the challenge to create a personalized end-to-end patient experience. 

alessio-beatriz.jpg"My team asked how do users know about a particular product, how we can create a service that aligns with their expectations and needs, and how might we align them with the orthodontists that will provide the service?" said Alessio. "The prompt was challenging because of the market space 3M is playing in. What our solution strived for was leveraging professional care for quality while looking for convenient and accessible entry points to treatment."

Creating Real-World Impact

Today’s consumers have a wealth of information at their fingertips and high expectations for personalized services. According to Ma, the EDI students grasped this reality and 3M expects to find real-world uses for the proposals made during the Design Strategy course. 

"[The EDI teams] offered practical and engaging approaches that 3M will certainly be adopting in our solutions, particularly in areas of creating multiple touchpoints for education and personalization and helping the patient take control of their life-long oral health needs," said Ma. "The concepts that integrated an online connection with a physical location experience were very interesting and relevant, and are already informing our development roadmapping efforts."

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