On November 13, 2021, three of my classmates—Raveesh Kalra ’23, Elaine Kelch ’23, and Travis Winstanley ’23—and I won the Kellogg Business Design Challenge, the world’s largest MBA business design case competition. Every year, more than 200 students from top business schools including Kellogg, Wharton, Tuck, Anderson, and Tepper compete in the six-week challenge hosted by Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Teams use human-centered design principles to solve complex business challenges.
Sponsored by a top CPG company, the 2021 design challenge sought to reduce waste in lotion bottle packaging. My team impressed a jury composed of the company’s brand managers, Kellogg innovation faculty, and well-known product designers to take away the top prize and $10,000 for our “on-brand” solution that reduced product waste by more than 50% while retaining recognizable aspects of the brand that consumers had grown to love.
You could tell that the jury appreciated our team’s sensitivity to the firm’s existing capabilities and the brand’s value proposition. We weren’t advocating for drastic changes in consumer behavior, and our coursework in core classes like Customer and Competitor helped us create a framework to analyze the customer journey and identify the pain points we wanted to address.
As part of our design process, we surveyed more than 200 people, ran a drop-in user research session in the courtyard of Evans Hall, and conducted 10 in-depth interviews with probable customers across the country. We participated in design-thinking workshops offered by leading innovation strategy and design firm IDEO and connected with professors from across Yale in materials science and marketing to hone our concept. In fact, everyone we reached out to at Yale was incredibly helpful, from the folks in our very own SOM Design and Innovation Club to the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design, which provided us with workspace and some stock materials to kickstart our research and design processes.
While some competing teams were stacked with technical experts and former consultants, our team’s unusual, multi-hyphenate background meant that we approached the competition brief from many different perspectives: Raveesh is a former CPG chemical engineer who led our competitive analysis; Elaine is a former advertising director who conducted our customer interviews and honed our storytelling; Travis is a former corporate strategist who led our design research; and I’m a former technology project manager who ran design sprints and brought our efforts together into a coherent deliverable.
The competition made me appreciate even more how everyone at SOM is something-slash-something-else. The school embraces that diversity of perspectives in our coursework, the student body, and the makeup of our teams.