A decade of design at Deloitte Consulting Australia
A decade of design at Deloitte Consulting Australia

A DECADE ago, Apple introduced the iPad, Uber went live, and Airbnb began operations. In the same year, in the corporate offices of Deloitte Australia, the firm was identifying itself as a “sick puppy” having lost clients, revenue and people. The climb to success seemed like a steep and fraught path. The need was to disrupt or be left behind.

Enter Design Thinking.

In 2010, there was little proof that Design Thinking created business value. Today we know that organisations who embrace Design Thinking outperform their peers by at least 2:1 in shareholder return, team efficiency and revenue growth. It’s no surprise that companies who invested in design, such as Apple, Uber, Airbnb and Deloitte, have seen an exponential rise in growth over the past decade.

A decade of design at Deloitte Consulting Australia
A decade of design at Deloitte Consulting Australia

Disrupting ourselves with Design Thinking

Rob Hillard, former Consulting Managing Partner, says context enables ideas to thrive. “If the best ideas were to always win, we would have been using Six Degrees and not Facebook.” In 2010, the time was right for Design Thinking “to challenge established thinking and come up with better solutions,” for Deloitte Australia.

Back in 2010, business schools in the US started teaching Design Thinking, a deeply human-centric creative problem solving approach. Deloitte Australia’s then-CEO, Giam Swiegers and then-CSO, Gerhard Vorster, took the firm Exec team to Stanford University to immerse themselves in Design Thinking.

After returning, the consensus was that design was the next terrain to explore — to create differentiation in the market, drive competitive advantage, profitability and new client solutions. David Redhill, the firm’s then-CMO says design would enable “how we delivered value, not just what we delivered.” Design Thinking at Deloitte was to redefine the way professional services were experienced and delivered.

The ‘aha!’ moment at Carriageworks

The firm Exec hosted a two-day training event for 100 people — from Partners to Graduates — at the recently-opened Carriageworks, an urban arts precinct housed in old railway workshops in inner Sydney. Here, people immersed themselves in design-led workshops, ideas, roleplaying, presentations and discussions to ignite their creative spark.

Pip Dexter, Lead Partner for Human Capital, remembers “it changed my perspective on how to do Consulting…by taking a human-centred approach.”

Tony Trewhella, a Consulting Partner, found a connection between Design Thinking and his entrepreneurial background. “It gave me confidence to bring innovation to the ‘Big Four’. I felt an incredible amount of permission to embrace innovation and creativity.”

However, it wasn’t without challenges, as Jeremy Drumm, Deloitte Consulting, Chief Strategy & Transformation Officer says “I was used to a structured, hypothesis-based approach, and Design Thinking felt like it was the opposite, until you unravel it and discover it’s complementary and meaningful to problem solving and the strategy development process.”

Creating a design movement across the firm

It takes a few brave people to create a movement. Swiegers and Vorster appointed Maureen Thurston as Deloitte’s Principal of Design, and ensured that there was a tipping point by training 10% of the firm as Champions of Design Thinking. This was enough for design to flourish at Deloitte Australia.

Within a year, the firm had re-evaluated its strategies in the areas of Consulting, Tax, Financial Advisory and Audit, purpose-built collaborative spaces called ‘The Source’ in every office across Australia, and started working with the then-Dean of the Rotman School of Management, Roger Martin, using his Cascade of Choices framework, what some call design at the highest order.

Between 2011 and 2014, Consulting won 70% of its major bids using Design Thinking. Consulting Managing Partner at the time, Adam Powick, remembers, “there wasn’t a problem we couldn’t solve using a Design Thinking approach.”

Across the firm, Design Thinking was demonstrating tangible benefits to clients and our people. In the Consulting service area, design matured quickly.

Design for client centricity in Consulting

Design Thinking for Consulting put clients at the centre, adapting its structure to recognise different service areas not for what they did, but who they served eg. the CHRO, the CMO and so on. This was a catalyst for growth for the practice.

Design Thinking also asked the practice to focus on solving the right problems. As Trewhella says, “listen first and solve second. People tend to want to solve, but you can end up solving the wrong problem.” Design Thinking pulled through into project delivery by encouraging more co-creation with clients. Powick believes that “every client takes to co-creation.”

Dexter reflects “There has probably not been a project I have led in the past ten years that has not had a design-orientation. It is more efficient, with better outcomes, and the whole experience is more beautiful for ourselves and our clients.”

Consulting initially used Design Thinking with clients, but Powick observed Design Thinking was also a great way to engage our people.

Design for Consulting people and culture

Powick says creative leadership drove a culture change “We looked for attitude, a bit of spark, a lack of fear. We wanted diversity and change instead of consistency and the status quo.”

Colloquially known as ‘Creative Partners’, it was promoting leaders who could challenge the status quo. Shane Currey, a retired ‘Creative Partner’, approached the Consulting Executives in 2014 to bring more Design Thinking, Visualisation and Storytelling (DVS) to Consulting projects. Starting with two designers, DVS grew to 12 people by 2017. Today DVS is known as Design for Business, a small team running design enablement and awareness.

Other areas Design Thinking was applied included re-designing our performance framework, changing the way we do sales and pursuits, designing Graduate onboarding experiences and the list goes on. More recently, Design Thinking was employed to develop the 2024 Consulting strategy letting the team run ‘what if ’ scenarios to imagine the future and explore plausible pathways. Design for Consulting has been long lasting. “You can’t go back to old ways once you feel the benefits and advantages of design,” says Redhill.

A decade of design at Deloitte Consulting Australia
A decade of design at Deloitte Consulting Australia

The next decade of design at Deloitte

A decade ago, Deloitte Australia disrupted itself with Design Thinking and since then we have used design to drive the transformation of our business and that of our clients.

Today we find ourselves at the face of a new disruptive event in COVID-19. We need creativity in business through Design Thinking to help initiate transformational change so we can shape the world we want to live and do business in.

Design has grown up and proven its value and meaning in the business world. It may have matured in business, but it still stands out as a different way of working, helping us remember that it is our humanness that helps us through challenges and challenging times.

In the future, as in the past, everyone can adopt the designer mindset and creative problem solving approach to forge new pathways in our disruptive world. As Hillard says “We are all creative. The trick is to unlock it.” No one writes rule books for the future, but we all play a part in the journey, and design helps us get there.

Published 01 May 2021

About the authors

Lauren Tan's profile

Lauren Tan

Specialist Director, Consulting

Lauren uses Design Thinking to humanise business, government and technology. Lauren has a PhD in Design (2012) and is a published co-author of the book Design Transitions (2013). She has presented at numerous global conferences on the topics of service design, co-design, design methodology, design education and design for social impact. She has also presented at TEDx Montreal (2010).

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Liz Soutar's profile

Liz Soutar

Specialist Senior Designer

Liz is a Specialist Senior Designer with over 20 years’ experience applying Design Thinking to help businesses in Australia, the UK and US to solve complex problems, embrace new ways of working and change the status quo through Human-Centred Design. She is passionate about helping others embrace design thinking and is responsible for enabling Deloitte Consultants and our Clients to embrace human-centred approaches and mindsets in their work.

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