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Design Thinking Through MBA Partnerships

This report introduces the design thinking processes through an MBA partnership with UW Credit Union.

Executive Summary

Sometimes the unlikeliest of marriages results in the most fascinating spawn. The collaboration between the Filene Research Institute and Design Concepts, Inc. is a case in point. What could a hip product development firm and a credit union research outfit possibly have to talk about over the dinner table? Quite a bit, it turns out. 

In 2006, Design Concepts and Filene conducted a large-scale ethnographic research project called “Why Choose a Credit Union?” For that study, research staff visited seven credit unions around the country and conducted extensive ethnographic interviews with members in their homes and at their credit unions in order to gain insight into the factors that influenced their decision to join a credit union. Since that effort, Design Concepts and Filene have partnered on a number of smaller projects with the aim of exploring how “design thinking” might be successfully incorporated into credit union practices.

What is the research about?

In 2008, the University of Wisconsin School of Business partnered with Design Concepts to develop an MBA course titled “Design Thinking for Business.” The purpose of the course is to teach the foundational concepts of design thinking theory and apply them in a real-world business situation. Design Concepts, through Filene Research, approached the UW Credit Union (UWCU) about serving as the real-world business partner for the course, and UWCU accepted the opportunity. During the Spring 2009 semester, students in the class worked alongside Design Concepts staff and UWCU to address a number of strategic opportunities UWCU had identified using the design thinking paradigm. This report introduces the design thinking process, reviews the work of the Design Thinking for Business student teams, and concludes with a series of implications for credit unions.

What are the credit union implications?

Design thinking is a powerful tool. When utilized in an intentional and thorough manner, it can result in new ideas, problems solved, and innovations created. Given the significant changes on the horizon related to the regulation of financial services institutions, credit union leadership and staff who are well-trained in the design thinking process can help deal with these changes in ways that are effective for themselves and their members