Design Leadership
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Design Strategist, Olson Zaltman

For Olson Zaltman, a leader in deep-mind research, I oversaw a year-long strategic design effort resulting in the most profitable year of their 20-year operating history.

Getting ready to lead a product innovation sprint for Olson Zaltman

Getting ready to lead a product innovation sprint for Olson Zaltman

I worked closely with leadership to:

  • Gain empathy for key stakeholders in their ecosystem

  • Refine and focus their brand and create a roadmap for change

  • Rebrand the company and redesign their web and social presences

  • Empower design and remove silos across roles and levels

Gaining Empathy

My initial stakeholder interviews (with clients, partners, and employees) revealed over a dozen key tensions within the organization. Confronting and resolving these tensions formed the foundation of the entire project.

Understanding Change

To help the team understand and contextualize their transformation, I authored a video series unpacking the fundamentals of brand, how the Information Age is impacting those fundamentals, and how to grow customer relationships in a fast-changing marketplace.

Each of these videos preceded team-wide sprints to synthesize core brand elements, strategize web content, and streamline product.

Rebrand & Redesign

The project also resulted in two key deliverables: a new visual identity, which I creative directed, working with the Chicago-based designer and illustrator Mike McQuade, and a new website.

I used the website redesign as a teachable initiative, bringing the team into the process of human-centered design by involving them in user research, problem definition, creative workshops, content strategy and build, and user analytics and iteration. 

Olson Zaltman’s finished website.

Olson Zaltman’s finished website.

To ensure that the team could own the work, I developed their site on Squarespace and held a series of one-to-one training sessions. 

Additionally, I trained the team on effective use of social media, blogging and marketing email to showcase their individual talents and reinforce the firm's brand—"Empowered Understanding."

A snapshot of the website's "Team" page, displaying every team member's most recent tweet

Empowering & Desiloing

Attracting and retaining new talent was also a focus of Olson Zaltman's transformation, and I worked as a job coach with two of their new hires throughout the project, helping them understand the firm's development and how to best offer their unique skills.

Finally, I used the project as a way to get the team off of email and onto Slack and Google Drive/Docs. The technical capabilities of these tools extend beyond their features, and underpin the needs and expectations of a fast-paced environment of innovation and delivery.

A graph showing team adoption of Slack from my introduction of the service in late 2014

A graph showing team adoption of Slack from my introduction of the service in late 2014

Altogether, the project delivered:

  • 65 hours of empathy interviews with clients, partners and team members

  • Research into the firm's sector and competition

  • 3 day-long team-wide sprints covering brand, content, and product

  • Creative direction of the visual identity, designed by the award-winning Mike McQuade

  • 15-page website development and CMS training

  • Tech and communications tools implementation and training

  • Job coaching of two new hires

Finally, I spent the months after the project measuring outcomes and helping Olson Zaltman's leadership close the loop on our work, understand its impact and continue to iterate for long-term and emerging business goals.

Your influence remains a big part of our approach—we’re in line for our most profitable year ever. Our agile projects are 2–3 times more profitable than conventional work.
— James Forr, Director