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A Sparkling Project for MMM Students

Students in the MMM program’s Research-Design-Build course talked about their experience helping one of the world’s largest diamond retailers create lasting connections to its customers.

Diamonds are forever as the saying goes, and a group of Northwestern students helped a major jewelry company develop a plan to form relationships with its customers that last just as long.  

The six students are in Northwestern's MMM program, a dual-degree program between Northwestern Engineering and the Kellogg School of Management. 

Madison BunkerTheir project was a part of the program’s Research-Design-Build (RDB) course, one of the key classes in the MMM curriculum. RDB gives students the first opportunity to put into practice the skills they have been learning about human-centered design, helping them apply research and input from end-users to the creation of a product or service.  

The project teamed the students with Signet Jewelers, one of the world’s largest retailers of diamond jewelry with nearly $8 billion in sales in 2022. The task? Develop a human-centered solution that allows the company to gain future loyalty from customers purchasing an engagement ring.  

The prompt was challenging because a customer who is buying an engagement ring is making a big purchase,” said Ana Palacios (MMM '24). “They are usually not in the mindset of considering future purchases.” 

Joining Palacios on the team were:  

To tackle the challenge, the students leaned heavily on their understanding of what they learned so far in MMM. That tactic provided immediate benefits.  

“The human-centered design process revealed the importance of letting go of preconceived notions,” Mohamed said. “After conducting our primary research with users, identifying patterns in the things they said, and deriving our key insights, we came away with information that we had never considered.” 

Based on end-user input, the team crafted a solution around three pillars:  

  1. Guidance: Quelling customers’ feelings of being uncertain and overwhelmed through education from sales associates. 
  2. Emotional connection: Making sure customers feel seen and heard through a personalized shopping experience that builds trust and confidence.   
  3. Memories: Creating an end result that was more about giving an experience than a gift.  

These pillars ultimately led the team to recommend the creation of a truly out-of-the-box experience called, well, Out of the Box (OOTB). 

“OOTB is a collection of jewelry that takes jewelry from a tangible gift to a memory-making gift,” Bunker said. “The collection included jewelry with built-in technology that would allow it to be used as a virtual key. The experiences unlocked by the jewelry are designed to bring people together and capture that memory in a beautiful product.”  

The students said their previous MMM experience helped them in RDB, and RDB itself added to the valuable lessons learned in the program.  

“RDB really forces you to sit in ambiguity and feel uncomfortable in a way unlike any other experience,” Bunker said. “Learning to not just tread water or fight the current but float with the flow is so useful in any field.”   

Now, the students are looking toward taking their MMM and RDB lessons with them to the rest of their courses and beyond graduation.  

“Having design thinking skills will be valuable for all of us as we grow in our careers, whether we work in tech, consulting, innovation, strategy — really anything,” Mohamed said. “Being able to uncover customer and stakeholder needs and get to the root cause of their pain points, and then design a solution based off of what we learn, allows us to solve problems in an authentically human-centric way.”  

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