IA Collaborative Convenes Fortune 100 Leaders to Discuss
Designing for Women, for the Benefit of All

Cross-Industry Leaders Illuminate Actionable Methods to Champion Women through Design

At IA Collaborative, our mission is to design the future of human experience. With a female Co-Founder and Co-CEO, and a proudly 50% female leadership team, we launched a Design for Women capability to illuminate and address the unmet needs of women – and anyone who identifies with the female gender – through design. Our teams apply IA’s expertise in human-centered design methodologies and integrated business strategy to define and prototype new products and services, and organizational missions and programs, to champion women.

The IA Collaborative Design for Women Roundtable Series themed “Illuminate + Act,” convened  25+ innovation and business leaders across industries including technology, healthcare, consumer products, financial services and insurance representing companies such as Airbnb, Johnson & Johnson, Google, USAA, and more, to explore challenges and bright spots to champion designing for women, for the benefit of all.

Women’s issues are systemic, and intersect with and impact the shared experiences of all genders, and all people. By bringing together this impressive group of leaders, we gained insights to make impact in our organizations, and through our design work – whether it be builds to our process, or the mindsets we use when developing new products and solutions.

-Katie Schlott, Partner, IA Collaborative

Taking Action: Key Themes

Below are key themes from our action-focused conversations with these leaders. They reveal how we can take action within our own organizations and spheres of influence, and collaborate to magnify our impact.

KEY THEME #1: Equity must be a collaboration, not a competition. We should openly share insights, resources, tools and strategies.

We discussed the collective impact we could have if we openly shared and democratized our efforts, and reached out to our competitors as allies. We’ve seen this approach with other pressing challenges facing humanity, including environmental sustainability, where corporate competitors like Coke and Pepsi commit to achieving a shared goal. Imagine if we more openly shared the equitable design tools and resources we’re developing at our own organizations. What if we made internal surveys, or key behavioral insights from research projects open-sourced? 

Another avenue for shared progress is aligning with like-minded partners – who have complementary expertise – to design equitable solutions. For example, to support women returning to work, IA Collaborative facilitated a collaboration between brands Medela, Mamava and Milkstork to improve a returning mother’s experience in the workplace. Together, these partners launched the New Moms’ Healthy Returns program to deliver equipment, advocacy and tools for breastfeeding women and the employers who support them — and they did so by leveraging each other’s strengths and capabilities to make a deeper and greater impact than one company could have done alone. 

Bottom line: Democratizing tools and resources – and collaborating across company lines – will better solve systemic design challenges and create more impactful, scalable solutions.

KEY THEME #2: Open the scope — rethink your “target audience.”

The groups discussed the inherent defaults we currently design for and within when creating products and services. For some, particularly in the financial industry, it is men; and for others, it’s limiting the female target audience to “young women” 18-30. Too often, other gender constructs, races, age groups and ethnicities are left out when companies prioritize what to design and launch next.

The roots of these “default” design decisions run deep, and even the most well-meaning teams can overlook them. Addressing them means proactively building in “bias-checks” in the design process, to address whether your existing designs or services subtly confirm the default. 

Mary Quandt, Director of Experience Strategy at Johnson & Johnson, shared a powerful tool teams use to proactively expand their thinking on “who” a product or service should be designed for. They’ve reframed their creative brief to include a diversity lens and began using “stretch personas” that consider a variety of different perspectives, backgrounds, and needs, which leads to more inclusive design decisions.

Challenging the default can include micro-design decisions—for example the male-wallet icon in an e-shopping experience—a subtle statement about who controls finances. It can also include rethinking UX journeys. Alissa Umansky, Senior Director, Product Design at The Knot, works to prevent bias and assumption in wedding planning.

To avoid making gender-based assumptions in our experience, such as around attire suggestions, we do not ask users to identify as a bride or groom. Instead, we focus on building products that empower every user and every couple, no matter who they are, to plan the wedding that’s right for them.

Alissa Umansky, Senior Director, Product Design at The Knot

Beyond designing for women – new product categories and marketing strategies should address a spectrum of genders and other intersectionalities. And it all starts with rethinking the target audience.

Bottom line: Proactively build in moments in your process – whether it’s initial ideation or design and prototyping – to challenge who your target audience is and what they need.

KEY THEME #3:  Business Prototype “micro-sprints” are a powerful tool to gain Leadership buy-in.

To break through people’s default assumptions and expectations, take baby steps. Experiment. Do a quick research sprint just to gain shared understanding among the leadership team. It’s a great equalizer…customers might kill our assumptions, and that’s great!

Liz Trudeau, SVP of Strategic Design, Wells Fargo

We discussed how many times, big change can take place one small experiment at a time. Gender equity is a systemic issue, and sometimes we let the massive scale of those challenges hinder the effort. However, there are already elements inherent to design thinking and agile development that we can incorporate into our projects to impact women. We can conduct iterative, business prototype sprints to gain early user behavioral insights, metrics, and ROI that can open the door to more funding and successful conversations with Leadership.

In the financial services industry, low-fidelity research on female investor mindsets can disprove assumptions about investment decisions.  In healthcare, a quick “business prototype” of a new service offering, led by IA Collaborative, quickly reversed assumptions business leaders had about user preferences and adoption. And don’t forget internal prototypes, and through them a deeper understanding of employees behaviors and needs. Gaining an understanding of what actions and policies drive real behavior change and thus, real equity, are powerful tools towards progress.

Bottom line:  Start by starting. Gain behavioral insights to demonstrate value and inspire action within your organization.

Design for Women: What You Can Do Next

We all struggle with what is urgent, and what is important. The hardest thing of change at scale is the change, and then the orchestration of the change.

-Hector Ouilhet, Head of Human Centered Innovation & Strategy at Google

The “Illuminate + Act” Design for Women roundtable series brought together incredible leaders across industries to share resources and illuminate areas of opportunity for equitable design. But most importantly, it inspired us to take action on those resources and opportunities. 

At IA, we’re applying these learnings and a design innovation mindset to continue solving equity challenges. We work with business leaders to rethink the role of design in every corner of their organization to design a better future for women, that will benefit all. We can create a world where designing for women is synonymous with “designing” –  whether that be internal processes and tools to support women during their journey within your company, or expand your products and offerings to include women’s needs at the center. 

Do you need support on an upcoming initiative to support women? Are you interested in being a part of a network of design + business leaders uncovering opportunities and sharing resources to design for women? Join our network and send a direct message to


IA Collaborative Supports the Fight Against COVID-19

IA Collaborative supports OSF HealthCare Pandemic Health Worker Program (PWHP)

IA Collaborative is proud to be designing critical materials to support the OSF HealthCare Pandemic Health Worker Program (PHWP), which is part of a partnership with the State of Illinois recently announced by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker. The PHWP will serve individuals with COVID-19 symptoms and protect the well-being of the general public during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pandemic Health Workers (PHWs) will digitally connect with referred clients who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and need to stay home or quarantine to protect themselves and others. Through this program, OSF HealthCare and the State of Illinois will proactively and digitally support those needing care, while also reducing the potential influx of non-emergent patients into a hospital’s emergency department. 

OSF HealthCare engaged IA Collaborative to rapidly design, develop, and launch a suite of patient-facing materials to make the home care process understandable and safe. By providing timely support and resources to encourage this behavior, IA Collaborative is proud to do our part to help flatten the curve in Illinois.

The PHW program is an extension of the role OSF HealthCare is providing with compassion and competence in a healthcare crisis. IA Collaborative helped design an experience to ensure that individuals enrolled in the program feel cared for and know key actions to take while recovering at home.

 -Dr. John Vozenilek, Vice President/Chief Medical Officer, Innovation and Digital Health, OSF HealthCare

IA Collaborative designed a client-facing handbook and digital site as part of a care kit that will be delivered to a client’s home. The kits support the program’s broader effort to safeguard hospitals from being overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, by digitally supporting those needing care and limiting the spread of the virus.

At IA Collaborative, we champion the strategic value of design. We believe that design determines behavior – and that well-designed products, services, and experiences have the power to create positive behavior change and save lives. We are proud to partner with OSF HealthCare on this critical public health initiative.

-Kathleen Brandenburg, Co-Founder and Chief Design Strategy Officer at IA Collaborative


Designing the Future Faster: Using Augmented Reality for User Research

How can we capitalize on leading technologies to design smarter user research experiences?

At IA Collaborative, we believe research is creative. We constantly invent new ways to get closer to the user and contextualize yet-to-exist concepts. Lately, this has included the potential intersection of AR and user research.

Augmented Reality enables us to 1.) overlay future-state features on physical prototypes and 2.) place future-state concepts into existing physical environments.

This “augmented research” unlocks new ways to get in-context insight and iterate designs faster. The result is more confident business decisions today on concepts with months or even years of development ahead. 

IA Collaborative team experimenting with AR-enabled user research: Layering multiple hardware and software concepts in-context of an existing Tesla interior.

Helping Business Get to the Future, Faster

By using AR to test new-to-market ideas, concepts become contextualized without the boundaries of producing physical products or technological capabilities.

There is a tension in researching and iterating future concepts: we often want experiences to feel as real as possible, but prototypes-from-the-future can require out-sized time and investment. Add to this that prototypes might leverage emerging or unproven technology, and you see why iterating with AR could accelerate the creation of new offerings. 

We’re starting to leverage AR to overlay the future-state in design research. Some applications we anticipate include: 

  • A medical innovator like Stryker can have surgeons scrub in, put on AR goggles, and interact with 20 interface concepts for pediatric heart monitor; making real a regulated product years before it’s on the market.
  • A housewares innovation company like Muji or Ikea can layer an entire range of yet-to-be manufactured products in living rooms across 5 countries without shipping a single prototype.   
  • A fast-moving transportation disruptor like Tesla can run through hundreds of new interactions and information displays while owners test-drive their latest vehicle. 
  • Global events like Coachella can bring fans to their sites months in advance to prototype a range of on-stage and at-event experiences.

By embedding AR technology into the research strategy, features with market risk can be experienced early and iteration can happen at a fraction of the cost.

Enabling Designers to Rapidly Prototype and Design for Impact

As a research tool, AR enables designers to test for extremes, unlock moments of inspiration, and design the ideal user experience.

Designers can use AR to:

Explore an extreme variety of concepts
Augmented visual and audio cues applied to existing products have the potential to fuel broad design experimentation without incurring extreme production costs. Features can be designed and tested along a wide spectrum of use cases and iterated in great detail. Concepts that may seem too “out-of-the-box” can be plausibly tested, inspiring surprising and valuable insights.  

Pinpoint an optimized experience
Just like a/b testing is used to understand how to design the best digital interaction, AR helps designers pressure-test features in context. Elements can be reacted to holistically or independently, enabling designers to pinpoint an optimized systemic experience.

Gain highly contextual, real-time design inspiration
Using AR gives designers the unique ability to design 3D objects in a 3D environment, rather than on a screen. Previously unseen insights can be uncovered, and new user needs can be surfaced.

We find that iterating in context leads to quicker, human-centered moments of inspiration. Insights are captured, new ideas emerge, experiences can quickly evolve, and learning can be contextualized, all resulting in stronger human-centered design choices.

Accelerating Growth through AR + Design Research

To keep up with the rapid pace of innovation, organizations should explore the use of creative technology like AR to help them move faster. As AR technology advances, research experiences will no doubt become even more sophisticated. Graphics will progress. Hardware will improve. The opportunities to experiment with user expectations, features, environments, and products will evolve, enabling new ways to uncover user insights and unlock business value.

Today, we believe AR delivers unique opportunities in design research, because it enables rapid user testing and real-time design exploration. By implementing AR in design research, companies can de-risk investments, create more user-centered offerings, and accelerate the launch of products, services, and solutions to their most important audiences.

Interested in learning more about how immersive research can help you make informed, strategic business decisions? Contact us at

Summer Internship IA Collaborative 2019

3 Questions with IA Collaborative’s Summer Interns

Our Interns Share What It’s Like to Work at a the Intersection of Design and Business

IA Collaborative invited a multi-disciplinary class of interns to learn from and collaborate across multiple projects this summer. From conducting immersive research to design the future of cycling to testing physical prototypes using augmented reality, the IA interns spent the summer exploring the intersection of design and business innovation.

At the end of their internship, we posed three questions to understand how their experiences at IA Collaborative are shaping their perspectives on design and their future careers.

Meet the Interns

IA Collaborative Summer Interns
IA Collaborative’s 2019 Summer Intern Class. From left to right: Yujin Lee, Cristina Tarriba Villa, Jenni Lee, Rachel Huvard, Nathan Pilkenton, and Karan Jain.

Name: Youjin Lee
Title: Interaction Design Intern
Before the IA Internship, I… graduated from a Designation bootcamp. I previously worked as a paralegal.

Name: Cristina Tarriba Villa
Title: Research and Design Strategy intern
Before the IA Internship, I… was pursuing a master’s degree in design at the IIT Institute of Design. I have one year left.

Name: Jenni Lee
Title: Graphic Design Intern
Before the IA Internship, I… was finishing up my sophomore year at Carnegie Mellon University. I’m a design major with a concentration in communication design and a minor in human-computer interaction.

Name: Rachel Huvard
Title: Research & Design Strategy Intern 
Before the IA Internship, I… was working towards my Master of Design at IIT’s Institute of Design.

Name: Nathan Pilkenton
Title: Business Strategy Intern
Before the IA Internship, I… was enjoying my first year of business school at Columbia University in New York!

Name: Karan Jain 
Title: Research & Design Strategy Intern 
Before the IA Internship, I… was pursuing my master’s in industrial design at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

Question #1: What made you want to work at IA?

Karan Jain: The diverse variety of projects that IA takes on was very appealing. I knew I would get to learn a lot and work with talented interdisciplinary teams.

I wanted to learn from a company that believes in the power of human-centered design and approaches design with rigor and structure.

  • Cristina Tarriba Villa, Research & Design Strategy Intern

Cristina Tarriba Villa: I wanted to work at IA because it is one of the best independent innovation and design consultancies. I wanted to learn from a company that believes in the power of human-centered design and approaches design with rigor and structure.

Rachel Huvard: The cross-disciplinary team structure, the “whatever it takes to get it done” culture, and the breadth of client projects.

Cristina Tarriba Villa records a research participant’s interaction with a prototype digital interface to identify innovation opportunities for an international energy business.

Question #2: What inspires you most in the design and innovation space?

Youjin Lee: It’s inspiring to think about design’s application in healthcare and education, because it has the potential to affect so many people.

Nathan Pilkenton: After some exposure to the concept at IA, I’m really inspired by the idea of using behavioral economics to encourage people to make decisions and take actions that actually improve their lives. This concept has been explored and implemented in some small-scale cases, but I think there is so much more potential to imbue our designs with this kind of thinking in business.

Karan Jain (right) and Design Director John Foust collaborate on AR technology, integrating into research.

Karan Jain: My design philosophy is, “Design is an opportunity to root fiction in truth.” I believe that humans are gifted with imagination to think beyond the possible and design provides a medium to root this thinking in evidence, enabling us to turn our ideal world into a reality. This process of turning a vision into reality is what inspires me the most in the innovation space. 

Cristina Tarriba Villa: Being able to surround myself with people that are driven to transform the world around us. I love working with people from different backgrounds and disciplines. Amazing work can be achieved when multidisciplinary teams – like the ones at IA – come together to approach problems with a defined process, while simultaneously considering ideas that will challenge the status quo. 

Question #3: What’s the most important thing you learned during your time interning at IA Collaborative?

Karan Jain: Collaboration. I learned how to take a pause from the work I had been heavily involved in and ask the team for quick feedback. This has definitely made me a more effective worker and allowed me to produce better results. 

It’s not, ‘how can we get these people to want to use the product we’ve designed?’ It’s, ‘how can we design our product or service so that people want to use it?’

  • Nathan Pilkenton, Business Strategy Intern

Nathan Pilkenton: So much about the importance of designing for the user. In my past life, I would often be trying to implement new processes or tools within a company. We thought about our end users, but not usually through a design thinking lens. Going forward, I’ve learned that it’s not, ‘how can we get these people to want to use the product we’ve designed?’ It’s, ‘how can we design our product or service so that people want to use it?'”

Nathan Pilkenton (middle) out in the field on research for a project to design the future of cycling.

Jenni Lee: How to communicate your design choices through the lens of business strategy.

Rachel Huvard: A person’s title doesn’t have to define or limit engagement with a project. I loved seeing how people at IA are able to step into a huge range of roles depending on project needs and their own strengths and interests.

Over the past few months, the IA Collaborative interns have gone on research, designed interactive workshops, helped create key assets for clients, and immersed themselves in the our interdisciplinary, creative, and business-minded culture. We can’t wait to see their careers continue to flourish as they apply human-centered design to business innovation.

If you’re interested in working at a consultancy that lives at the center of design and business strategy, learn more about our open positions here.



IA Collaborative Hosts Business Leaders During IIT Institute of Design’s Annual Design Thinking Immersion

IA Collaborative is partnering with the IIT Institute of Design to host an evening with executive leaders from organizations including Ford and SC Johnson to discuss the value of design thinking. Founder and Chief Design Strategy Officer Kathleen Brandenburg and Partner Matt Alverson will share how IA Collaborative unlocks business value for some of the most innovative companies in the world and why it’s essential for modern business leaders to invest in the power of human-centered design.

Learn more about the program.


06:00 pm


218 South Wabash Avenue
9th Floor
Chicago, IL 60604



IA Collaborative + Chicago Business Designers: Art, Data, and Science

On behalf of Chicago Business Designers, IA Collaborative invites you to join us for an interactive night exploring the important relationship between design and business. Mayur Gupta, CMO at Freshly, will discuss how he fuses data with human-centered design to create brands that people can’t live without.

Register for the event here.


05:30 pm


IA Collaborative
218 S Wabash Ave, #9
Chicago, IL 60604


Design for Transformation, Growth, and Scale

Modern, product-obsessed, human-centered organizations understand the value of applying design as business strategy, identifying future demand and envisioning new offerings by asking what’s desirable, possible, and viable.

These companies are also creating significant value by applying design broadly across their organizations: empowering employees, aligning stakeholders, transforming businesses, and making innovation scalable. 

Below are six strategies in which modern organizations are leveraging design to align, strengthen, and prepare teams for growth and scale.  

1. Embedding design principles in every function and BU to align organizational priorities and empower collaboration.

Modern organizations are developing sets of design principles that align the company’s purpose, each business unit’s/department’s growth opportunities, and their users’ emerging needs.

By creating this detailed level of aspiration, and by making each area’s principles known throughout the organization, cross-silo teams have a better idea what information, talent, and assets could be shared and leveraged. Proactive communication and coordination increase across the company. Continuous learning becomes a mindset and processes continue to iterate and improve.

Additionally, strategic hiring, retention, and development are enhanced. Return on invested capital goes up. Marketing becomes more integrated and effective. Ultimately, teams become empowered to explore myriad possibilities with confidence that their solutions will align with company values and direction.

For Allstate’s new digital safety business, IA Collaborative helped develop guiding principles and embed “who we are, what we do, and why we do it” into the talent lifecycle.

2. Championing user research and storytelling to connect user needs with business opportunities. 

Companies that conduct continuous user research to inform ongoing product development and innovation are far more likely to stay ahead of changing customer needs and maintain market leadership. 

To maximize research efforts, modern companies are transforming insights into compelling communication that can be broadly shared across the company. Video, print, and digital media can bring insights to life though user stories embedded with insight. These narratives inspire teams to create user-centered solutions that drive business strategy, offerings, experiences, and operations.

Through thoughtful design, unfamiliar concepts are easily digested and novel ideas are brought to life, helping both the enlightened and novice business leader learn, adopt, and grow.

For the young athletes team, IA Collaborative conducted research with 10-year-old “elite” athletes and synthesized insights into a video, book, and team space to inspire future offerings.

3. Envisioning user-centered value propositions to evolve current and future offerings.

Led by user insight and fueled by cross-discipline collaboration, modern organizations continuously consider updates to their value propositions and customer targets; identifying opportunities for product extension and market expansion. 

To ensure new directions are not only desirable to users, but also possible and viable for the company to deliver, teams visualize high-level user experiences while assessing new capability needs and investment requirements. 

For Samsung, IA Collaborative designed an omni-channel wearables strategy that led to the development of Samsung’s current wearables product line.

4. Seamlessly integrating new partners into the business ecosystem.

Most acquisitions fail to deliver value greater than their cost of capital. When considering new potential acquisitions or detailing the integration plan for already-acquired businesses, modern companies take a user-first approach toward determining how newly combined assets might be leveraged. 

To create competitive advantage, teams envision opportunities that could enhance current or enable entirely new experiences, offerings, business models, and internal processes. All latent, underutilized assets are uncovered through cross-functional cooperation and diligence. 

Armed with design principles, teams define which components and operating models should remain independent and which should become integrated or divested. Internal user journeys can also be defined to inform operating structures and decision-making processes.

Based on human-centered scenario planning, an integration roadmap is established; maximizing value from the acquisitions while avoiding cannibalization and cultural conflict. 

Oftentimes, teams will initially isolate new acquisitions to preserve value and assess opportunities. Next, teams iteratively incubate aquirees’ ideas within the parent organization, followed by strategic incorporation of key capabilities into their core business. After successful piloting, the last stage is full integration of customer experiences, operations, and cultures.

5. Enabling ideal customer experience through organizational transformation.

When seeking to change the way parts of their organization work, modern companies begin by identifying a bold user-centered vision though cross-functional collaboration. 

Teams facilitate service blueprinting work sessions where user, customer, and partner needs are mapped to customer sales and service capabilities; tools, features, and programs; and operations, policies, and technologies. To activate the vision and blueprint, new collaboration models are often required, bridging organizational silos and establishing new incentive structures and shared goals. 

For United, IA Collaborative traveled over 150,000 miles to observe flyer and agent behavior, established a 5-year vision and rigorous near-term roadmap (product, ops, back-end), and designed an award-winning app and digital ecosystem.

6. Business prototyping to prioritize new online and offline experiences.

Even for digital-first companies, much of a customer’s experience occurs offline. By incorporating lean methodologies with design thinking, modern companies simulate and iterate evolutions — and entirely new versions — of offerings, operations, and profit models. 

Through low-fidelity prototypes, teams make experiences feel 100 percent real to customers (before incurring the expense of new operations or assets) and gain data from “in real life” interactions among customers, employees, and partners. Operating models can also be feasibly tested, where teams are built, trained, and expanded quickly. 

With this iterative approach, leadership gains valuable real-user data, otherwise unavailable without business prototyping. Prototype data indicates which projects have the most merit, and what makes the most sense to fund and scale.

IA Collaborative and Dexcom prototyped a functioning new diabetes management platform “Sweetspot” to define business models, user needs, and operational strategies. This prototype-turned-business-offering is now the only diabetes software integrated with Apple Watch and Apple HealthKit.

Designing for Change, Growth, and Scale 

In summary, by incorporating human-centered design principles within each functional discipline and business unit, companies are signaling priorities and facilitating collaboration across the company. By evangelizing user research and storytelling across the organization, everyone becomes empowered by customer insight to guide their work. By infusing human-centered and systemic thinking within offering, integration, and transformation strategies, teams are envisioning and capturing new and unexpected value. By business prototyping online and offline experiences, leadership is making better-informed product and service investments.

By infusing a design process and mindset throughout their organizations, modern companies are creating a human-centered, systemic culture; and aligning teams to lead change. 


IA Collaborative’s Dan Kraemer and Airbnb’s David Holyoke Co-present at Design Thinking 2019

IA Collaborative’s Founder and Chief Design Officer Dan Kraemer joined a distinguished speaker lineup including leaders from USAA, Pepsi, United Healthcare, and Google at Design Thinking 2019. He invited Airbnb for Work’s David Holyoke onstage to discuss a recent collaboration to create the future of work, and explore how to apply design processes to identify and prototype new business opportunities.


IA Collaborative Wins 2019 Design & Innovation Award

IA Collaborative was announced the category winner of the 2019 Design & Innovation Awards for the firm’s work proving the value of design for business. IA was one of four finalists in the ROI of Human-centered Design category, an award that celebrates innovation and human-centered design accomplishments across communities and organizations.

IA Collaborative’s unique “Design Your Next Competitor” approach to innovation has helped clients leverage the power of human-centered design to launch what would have otherwise been their next competitor and drive significant business value.

IA’s Founder Dan Kraemer was a keynote speaker at Design Thinking 2019, where the Design & Innovation award winners were announced.