Q&A with Deepa Prahalad T’00

A new book on design strategy by Deepa Prahalad, daughter of management guru C.K. Prahalad, was rated by Fast Company as one of the 13 best design books of the year.

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By 2008, Deepa Prahalad T’00 had worked as a management consultant for a range of companies, from start-ups to multinationals. So when she met Ravi Sawhney and he asked her to create a business plan for his strategic design firm, RKS, she was eager to focus her skills on a new industry. But when they met again, Sawhney had a new proposition. Instead of consulting, would she be interested in co-authoring a book with him on strategic design? Prahalad jumped at the chance.

“It sounded a lot more exciting to me than the typical consulting opportunity,” she said.

Their book, “Predictable Magic: Unleash the Power of Design Strategy to Transform Your Business,” came out at the end of 2010 and was rated by Fast Company as one of the 13 best design books of the year. Since the book was published, Prahalad has been blogging regularly about strategy and design for The Huffington Post and Harvard Business Review. In a way, she took up the family business. Her father, C.K. Prahalad, was one of the world’s top management thinkers, penning such books as “Competing for the Future” and “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid” about converting the poor into consumers. C.K. Prahalad passed away in 2010, but not before he had a chance to read his daughter’s manuscript and give it his blessing. 

What was it like to grow up in a household with a management guru?

As a family, we didn’t just accept that what exists is the way things always would be or should be. One of the benefits of being in the strategy profession is that you’re always thinking about how you can take things to the next level and move things forward.  The bias toward being future-oriented stuck. 

Why did you and Ravi Sawhney want to write “Predictable Magic”?

RKS started to look at how to understand what makes a successful design, because there’s a huge variety of things people respond to at every price point. I think they had come upon this idea of emotions being a trigger point of how people accept or reject different things.

Why are emotions important to design?

If you can try to predict people’s emotional response accurately, that can make a huge difference between success and failure. It’s not simply how you feel about the design, but how the design makes you feel about yourself.  We provide a practical toolkit for managers and designers to incorporate emotional insight into their design and strategy at every phase.

What perspective did you bring to the book?

I critiqued the traditional view that design is something that should come in at the end of the process. I created the EMPOWER framework in the book to enable businesses to understand how to connect design, emotion, and narrative in their strategies. If you look at all of the main strategic challenges we’re dealing with today—how to innovate, be sustainable, reach new markets, globalization—they require design. So viewing strategy and design as discrete activities doesn’t work, it needs to be viewed as a continuum.

What’s the takeaway for businesses in the design phase?

Using design to connect with a wide audience can be a form of strategic advantage for companies that are savvy. If you’ve lost that emotional connection, even if you give financial incentives, people are not eager to test out your product. People are eager to test out something new from Apple or Google, to be part of that process. Most consumers don’t read your mission statement; those values need to be visible in your design and their interactions with your brand.