Jared Braiterman is McKinsey’s Tokyo-based VP of experience design for Asia-Pacific. He joined the company after founding Social Models, a design research studio that worked with the likes of Hitachi, Facebook and Mitsui, and Tokyo Green Space, a public research project that drew lessons from Tokyo’s relationship with nature.
Braiterman holds a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Stanford and has a strong interest in botany. Having worked his way through the dotcom boom in Silicon Valley, he moved to Japan as a Hitachi Fellow in 2009 to study urban gardening.
He does not fit the consultancy's stereotype. But then, McKinsey’s design practice doesn’t fit the consultancy’s stereotype either. Not yet two years old, the practice began in earnest when McKinsey acquired Lunar, an award-w inning design company from Silicon Valley. Braiterman said he chose to give up his autonomy because of the sheer calibre of the design thinkers in the company. “It persuaded me that this is the agency of the future,” he said.
Braiterman downplays the notion that McKinsey is in competition with advertising agencies, and agencies typically find comfort by telling themselves that management consultancies just aren’t “creative”. But that belief looks increasingly shaky, and it would be foolish to think that a firm like McKinsey, with its collective brainpower and access to consumer and business insight, doesn’t have the potential to eat into budgets that might otherwise be allocated to more traditional marketing service providers.
Company leaders that really understand the value of design thinking are rare, but the appetite to learn is there. Braiterman sees McKinsey’s role as being to “reinvent offline industries” and help established companies “confront attacker startups”.
|This article is part of the Creativity in Japan series
Why are consultancies moving more aggressively into the world of marketing strategy and design?
McKinsey are looking to renew themselves. We are strong in analytics and strategy and are seeing design as something clients are asking for. There’s been a shift where design thinking is now something CEOs are concerned with. That’s an important difference between ourselves and agencies. We’re not just being called by the CMO, but also by the CEO. I don’t see us as competing with agencies.
Why is there suddenly such interest in design from clients?
In the past it was enough to have strong analytics that looked at past data. The pace of change now means having an emotional as well as logical connection with the customer becomes paramount. Business needs to have an in-depth understanding of the customer, and that’s why McKinsey is starting to hire anthropologists.
You are integrating Lunar into McKinsey. What’s the appeal for designers in working with a management consultancy?
The appeal for designers is the impact. The potential impact they can have is much higher when dealing with the leadership of a company. It takes us out of our comfort zone in many ways. A lot of people still think of design as a decorative thing. Clearly that’s not what we think we’re doing.
What do you do in practice?
Design thinking and service design. It all starts with field research. Whether it’s about understanding truckers or online shoppers or any other type of user, we go into their environment to understand their decisions, what motivates them and what keeps them up so we can create something valuable. Then we start prototyping. This is a very rapid cycle of learning and making. If something isn’t working, we throw it away; failure is considered part of the process. It’s new for a company like McKinsey, but is how competitors like Ideo work.
A large Japanese company approached us to fix a problem involving a lot of discontinuities. A lot was about the look and feel, but discontinuities also reflect issues of governance, and the online services of many traditional companies reflect their organisational culture. I worked with a bank that divided its homepage by department and people couldn’t find how to sign on. We need to persuade the customer to adopt new services when they are just one click away from the competitor.
How does the new world of business appear to you and where does design fit into it?
The new world is one of no sectors: banks competing against Facebook and Google. If you look at Uber’s onboarding of new customers as opposed to setting up a bank account—people are wondering [of banks], why aren’t you more like Uber? Why isn’t this as engaging as other experiences? Airbnb is disrupting through great design. A lot of services out there are absolutely broken. Don’t they think customers care? It’s mysterious to me why so many online services are not customer-friendly. There’s a huge opportunity to think about what the customer wants and make their needs a priority.
How do you see Japanese experience design changing?
In the past we were told ‘busy’ designs are preferred in Japan—that chaotic design was ‘cultural’. But where did Mixi go? Rakuten is being challenged by Amazon. Customers in Japan are not that different to anywhere else. An interface needs to be easy to use and comparable to other great online properties. I think Japanese companies are facing global threats online and some may need to up their game to compete. What happens to network TV when Netflix and Amazon start providing media content in Japan? If I were betting, it would not be on network TV.
Creativity in Japan is a series by David Blecken and Barry Lustig, managing partner of Cormorant Group, that examines the market's changing creative landscape.