Expert Interview with Dan Kraemer, Founder and Chief Design Officer, IA Collaborative

By: Dan Kraemer

Tell us a little bit more about IA Collaborative and the type of work you do.

IA Collaborative is a global design and innovation consultancy. We work at the intersection of human-centered design and business strategy. At IA, I lead a multidisciplinary team of designers, researchers, business strategists, engineers and architects to help clients uncover new opportunities and design new and disruptive products, services and business models. We help some of the most leading and innovative companies in the world work at the forefront of design for business value.

Who are some of your clients?

Just a few of our recent clients include Airbnb, Audi, Bosch, FedEx, GE, Hyatt, Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg’s, Nike, Philips, Samsung, United Airlines, and the United Nations.

How do you think the design thinking landscape - and the way the business world understands it - has evolved over the past few years?

In recent years, “design thinking” and “design innovation” have been more consistently incorporated into the lexicon of business. It’s thrilling to see such rapid growth and adoption of design as a business value. When a movement like this grows rapidly, definitions and interpretations of terms can vary widely. For some organizations, design thinking essentially means “having a focus on the customer” and practicing human-centered design. Human-centered design is vitally important; in fact, it’s the foundation of how design thinking can impact business. However, the forefront of design thinking is in integrating human-centered design completely within business strategy, and vice versa. We’re working this way at IA, fully integrating business strategy into our human-centered design approach.

And now, design thinking is moving upstream. We’re starting to see many companies use design to solve complex “upstream” problems that used to be the domain of traditional business consultants, such as identifying emerging market opportunities and assessing market fit. These fluid and ambiguous areas are best tackled via a “design thinking” mindset.

For example, our long-time partner, Nike, tapped us to focus the sport giant’s global innovation portfolio on an 8 to 10-year horizon. Instead of analyzing consumer trend reports and producing a standard market analysis/opportunity assessment, we thought holistically about the future in every aspect of Nike’s business: what was beyond the forefront in terms of user experience, brand, process, channels, process and profit models. In exploring and observing the fringes of athlete behavior with Nike, we found unconventional applications of technology that were indicators of future mainstream behaviors and offerings. We synthesized thousands of data points into a foundational set of three platforms to accelerate Nike’s entire innovation strategy to, as they say it, “the exact specifications of championship athletes” of the future.

This design thinking approach to innovation strategy, according to Nike, ultimately “set the vision for thousands of Nike employees, and prioritized their innovation work from the top down.” Putting the innovation strategy into action, new adaptive technologies like laceless shoes were accelerated in Nike’s development pipeline. The Hyper-adapt 2.0 laceless shoe was just released in spring of 2019, making Nike first-to-market in the space. By applying design thinking upstream, their downstream market entry was ahead of the competition.

What do you think are the biggest “design thinking” challenges that executives are facing right now? 

One of the biggest things we hear is “how can we know what we don’t know?” Our clients want to be able to foresee the future and get to it faster, before their competitors do. I’ve spoken and written about design-thinking strategies to accomplish this many times, including IA Collaborative’s “Design Your Next Competitor” approach, which we’ve seen produce massive business results for companies like FedEx, Allstate and Dexcom. But the challenge really comes in knowing where to start, as in the Nike example above. Another common challenge we hear is more downstream, once opportunity areas have been identified and new offerings have been successfully designed. Piloting, launching and scaling is a critical journey that often gets put on autopilot or neglected. This is where we work with clients to prototype not just an offering or an experience, but an entire business everything from the user experience and value proposition to the profit models, channels and partnership strategies that need to be in place to make the new business successful. Take our work with Allstate, which I’ll be touching on in my speech. We helped them expand outside of the traditional insurance space and into cybersecurity by prototyping a new digital safety app and service offering that was just announced by Allstate’s CEO at CES 2019. By prototyping the entire end-to-end service offering, we experimented in fast, agile sprints with low-fidelity and then high- fidelity versions, iterating on the value prop, experience and profit models to determine what people would value most and what they would pay for. This approach gave Allstate the evidence they needed to launch with confidence.

Speaking of your speech, can you preview for us what you will be speaking about at Design Thinking 2019?

I’ll be sharing real-world examples from the forefront of design and innovation. I’ll go behind the scenes of some exciting, recently launched-in-the world projects for Fortune 100 companies, as well as high-growth market disruptors. I think attendees will be inspired by and more importantly, learn a lot from the talk.

Without giving away confidential information, can you talk about some interesting projects you have going on right now at IA?

Sure! I do have to be vague to protect confidentiality, but just to give you a sense of the range of types of projects we work on…it’s everything from helping a major pharmaceutical company identify its strategic growth priorities for the next 3-5 years, and building out digital health products, to working on the future of autonomous delivery and the future of work travel. We’re prototyping new business models, products and services to understand what consumers will value, and be willing to pay for, for a major CPG brand. Suffice it to say, at any given moment, we have an extreme diversity of projects that we’re working on at IA Collaborative, both in our Chicago office and our Los Angeles location. We’re one of the largest if not the largest independent design and innovation consultancies in the world today, and rapidly growing.


Interested in hearing more from Dan? See his keynote at Design Thinking 2019 and click here to learn more about IA Collaborative.