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Working and Leading at the Intersection of Engineering, Business and Design with Kevin Bethune — DT101 E76

Kevin Bethune is the founder and chief creative officer for dreams • design + life, and the board chair of the Design Management Institute. We talk about working and leading at the intersection of engineering, business and design.

Listen to Learn About:


  • The synergy Kevin created between three disciplines: engineering, business, and design
  • Kevin’s years at Nike
  • How to build an environment that encourages and fuels creativity
  • Kevin’s way of onboarding teams
  • The importance of evidence collection and world-building in Kevin’s work
  • Design’s leadership during the pandemic
  • The future of design, and the need for more equity, diversity and inclusion in the industry

Our Guest

Kevin Bethune is the Founder and Chief Creative Officer of dreams • design + life, a “think tank” that delivers design & innovation services using a human-centered approach. Kevin’s background spans engineering, business and design in equal proportion over his 20+ year career, positioning him to help brands deliver meaningful innovations to enrich people’s lives.

Kevin began his career as a mechanical engineer in the nuclear power industry. This chapter gave him deep product experience working with high performing teams across 14 nuclear reactor upgrade campaigns. After his MBA, Kevin joined Nike, Inc. in a business capacity, but quickly navigated to the Global Footwear product engine to drive advanced digital product creation capabilities, discovering the world of design in the process. After solidifying his creative foundation through further studies at ArtCenter College of Design, Kevin co-founded distinct design & innovation capabilities at two Tier 1 management consulting firms in Booz & Co. and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). As Vice President of Strategic Design at BCG Digital Ventures, he led a large cohort of designers that would influence and shape every corporate venture spun out from the incubator. Kevin left BCG Digital Ventures to carve his own path under the banner of dreams • design + life, focusing on unlocking human potential through strategic design, industrial design and the building of new ecologies.

Show Highlights

[01:21] The childhood creative itch that started Kevin on the path towards design.
[01:37] How growing up in Detroit influenced him as a child, and led him into engineering.
[02:37] Jumping into the nuclear power industry after finishing his Engineering degree.
[03:29] How engineering gave him an interest in business strategy and going to business school to earn his MBA.
[04:34] Transitioning to a job at Nike, and his introduction to design in a professional capacity.
[06:03] Getting the chance to design shoes at Nike.
[06:44] Being able to accept failure is key to the creative process.
[07:21] The challenges Kevin faced at Nike while trying to create cross-disciplinary connections.
[08:15] Finding people willing to act as mentors, supporters, and advocates.
[09:24] The importance of curiosity and user observation to Kevin’s work.
[12:23] Kevin faces a fork in the road of his work and where he wanted to go.
[13:53] Leaving Nike to go back to graduate school to study design.
[14:45] Kevin talks about his experience going back to school as a mid-career professional.
[18:32] Separating the work from one’s self.
[19:17] Appreciating his wife’s support.
[22:17] Working with Booz and company and founding Booz Digital after finishing his design degree.
[22:54] Moving to work with BCG.
[23:21] Kevin talks about how the team worked with clients.
[24:45] The multi-team, design thinking environment that evolved and how it fueled creativity.
[26:09] Getting executive buy-in and support.
[28:28] The paradigms and techniques that helped the teams navigate through conflict.
[30:11] Creating a culture of safety where people felt it was OK to raise concerns.
[31:14] Onboarding teams and having them talk about roles, norms and culture at the start.
[33:27] Kevin talks about the decision and process of founding his own design organization.
[35:51] The two priorities Kevin focuses on when it comes to choosing projects and clients.
[38:39] The early months of the company, and the surprising way business came to his doorstep.
[39:40] The surprising focus of Kevin’s first conversations with potential clients.
[42:59] How the pandemic has changed Kevin’s work.
[46:18] The ways in which design is taking a leadership role as everyone tries to figure out what work will look like in the future.
[48:29] The topics and issues Kevin feels need to be part of the conversations designers are having as a community.
[49:26] Finding ways to connect and engage with other creative communities.
[50:07] The importance of pushing for more equity, diversity and inclusion in the design industry.
[54:52] Kevin offers advice for what those in leadership roles can do to ensure that they are moving the conversation and industry forward, and not contributing to existing barriers.
[58:45] Resources Kevin recommends for those interested in design.


Kevin on Twitter
Kevin on Instagram
Kevin on LinkedIn
Kevin profile on IDSA’s website
dreams • design + life
Design is [Dreaming]: Curiosity and innovation
TED Talk: The 4 Superpowers of Design
ArtCenter College of Design podcast: Realizing Dreams Through Design
ArtCenter College of Design Alumni Story: Kevin Bethune: Powerful design that goes the distance
Core77: Building a Brighter Design Future Means Taking a Hard Look at the Industry’s Deepest Flaws
DV Alumni: Human-Centered Design with Kevin Bethune
ALU Podcast: Design Thinking in Business
How to Future-Proof Your Design Career

Book Recommendation: The Laws of Simplicity, by John Maeda
Book Recommendation: Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design, by Kat Holmes
Book Recommendation: Designing Design, by Kenya Hara

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Learning Service Design + Leading Service Transformation with Clive Grinyer — DT101 E66

A Designer’s Journey into Designing for Health and Healthcare with Lorna Ross — DT101 E45

Designing Culture at Work + Social Innovation + Necessary Disquiet with Lauren Currie — DT101 E29

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