Season 01, Episode 06

S.01 / E.06

Mary Quandt

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Mary Quandt is a Design & Innovation Leader with extensive experience working with Fortune 500 companies and consultancies to identify and develop breakthrough growth platforms with business impact. She is a purpose-driven strategist committed to connecting design, technology, and humanity, making a world that works for all living things.

She is a systems thinker with a bias for action – solving diverse problems with a deep set of design thinking and organizational development capabilities – cutting through the complexity to reveal simple, impactful solutions. Mary has deep experience leading and building passionate advocates for human-centered design and creating experiences that people love. Her superpowers include team building, collaboration, reframing, and a servant leadership mindset.

Currently, the Director of Service Strategy at Johnson and Johnson Design, Mary works across J&J’s broad healthcare portfolio to create seamless customer experiences across channels and touchpoints. She has a BA in Business from The University of St. Thomas, an MDes in Communication Planning and Design from Carnegie Mellon, and she is currently completing an MS in Organization Development at American University.

When we at Johnson and Johnson are thinking about designing services and service design, it’s really looking holistically at what are all of the things that can create a mutual value exchange.
Mary Quant : Director, Experience Strategy / Johnson & Johnson



Wilma Lam,


Hi, and welcome to Optimistic Design, a speaker series where we take a practical positive look at the future of design, ethical innovation, and technology. I'm your host, Wilma Lam, Director of Strategy here at Substantial.

Today I'm thrilled to be chatting with Mary Quandt. Mary has worked across various industries from designing for democracy to creating consumer products to crafting fully immersive interactive experiences.

Today, Mary's a leader of service design strategy at Johnson & Johnson's Design Studio based out of New York City. Her recent work focuses on health and well-being, end to end experience design, and bringing behavioral science into the design process.

Hi, Mary. Welcome to Optimistic Design.

Mary Quandt:

Hi, Wilma. How are you doing? It's great to be here.

Wilma Lam,


Yeah, we're so happy to have you with us. And just to kick things off, could you share a little bit about how you got into the field of design?

Mary Quandt:

Wilma, how did I get into the field of design? I have to say the most honest answer is I was a dissatisfied client. I was doing all of this work with a healthcare company. I was on the marketing team and asking for lots of input on how to achieve certain goals that we had.

Increasingly, I found that they just wanted me to tell them if I should create a brochure or a website or a podcast. What I was really looking for them to provide for me was a series of solutions that were much more creative that's like, “Well, this is the problem. Here's what's possible.”

And so, I'm like, “Look, I'm going to see if I can learn how to do this myself.” That was bad. Yeah. So, I kind of transitioned from being on the client side. I went to grad school at Carnegie Mellon. I learned a lot about how to just really take this on and take that more strategic approach to design which was awesome. I’m grateful for that experience.

Wilma Lam,


With that transition at Carnegie Mellon, and I know you've been in industry in multiple roles, so through all those experiences, who has influenced and inspired how you work?

Mary Quandt:

So many people, Wilma. I do think the Carnegie Mellon was foundational for me at that point. I think that at the time that I went through that it was a very small program. It was one of the first masters of design that was available. It was really human centered.

Two professors there, Dan Bojarski and Dick Buchanan were my thesis advisors. They each contributed something to me that I feel like set me on a bit of a trajectory.

Dan is unbelievably skilled at understanding who people are. He can see what your skills are, and how to find an idea within that, and then helping people just kind of go with where they work best. That's really influenced how I practice.

Dick Buchanan is like a giant brain. One of the things that I learned from him was that design is really about rhetoric. Every choice we make along the way is really making a statement about what we believe in and what we value, and to be super interested and cautious about all aspects of design, not just how to solve the problem on the surface. He was my first introduction to what I would say systems thinking as well, because he kind of looked big picture of things.

“Design is really about rhetoric. Every choice we make along the way is really making a statement about what we believe in and what we value.”

I would say that was a really good foundation. And then, I feel like there's a series of things along the way, or people along the way that have helped me. I've done a lot of work over the years with a woman named Elizabeth Hare.

At one point, she introduced me to a company called Humantific that probably has one of the best innovation methodologies that I've ever experienced. They provide training in how to do that. Elizabeth really runs some of those training programs. She's been really influential for me.

What else? And then, I think most recently, probably Wilma, somebody who's really impacted how I think about design and what it means to be a designer is Spania Legadi, who I worked with at Johnson & Johnson.

What I really have learned from Spania is how to really take human centered design more seriously. And being purpose driven and inclusive in how we not only design our outcomes, but how we design the process itself.

I feel like she's really masterful at understanding how to design the design process itself. I don't really know how to explain it, but she has this way of making the process such that people can be their best and think differently and openly and challenge the status quo.

So, sort of designing inside and outside has been a really big influence on me from a human perspective. Like, you can't have good outcomes if you don't have good input. How do you make the team happy and joyful so that they're doing their best work? Yeah, she's amazing in that way.

Wilma Lam,


Yeah, that's great.

Mary Quandt:

I could go on, but.

Wilma Lam,


Well, I really appreciate that kind of answer because I definitely feel like it's true. As a designer, you have so many influences. And when you're working on a project, you're thinking about all the different things that you've learned from different individuals in your life and how you're going to apply it. But this also leads me to, you know, you're a leader of service design at Johnson & Johnson. That's a lot of work that you've been working focusing on lately. Could you talk a little bit about what service design is from your point of view?

Mary Quandt:

Yeah, sure. It is a common question, Wilma. Maybe this has come up in some of your other work. But even within our team, we were debating this again yesterday. What is service design? Where does it begin? Where does it end?

One of the things that we've tried to continuously do is kind of go back to just the basics of, first of all, what is service? And so, when I think about service, I appreciate it because it's the intangibles that we're designing. And really within our economy in the US and globally, I think over 70% of the gross national product is really based on services. It's important, but because it's invisible, I think people forget about it.

“Intangibility is something that I think is core to a service.”

The other thing that we think about when we think about services is that there's no inventory involved oftentimes. And so, there's no product sitting on the shelf, there's nothing that necessarily comes out. But there is an exchange that happens, there's a payment made, there's a service provided, but there's no inventory provided.

The third thing I think about when I think about service itself is that there is inherently/typically a human interaction that's involved in it. Increasingly, I think, we're designing services that are based on data. But the data is really intended to serve these human interactions. So, when I think about sample services, my dry cleaner is definitely a service. I'm bringing them my clothes. They're my clothes. They're just doing something for me. Healthcare in itself is a service. Getting my haircut is a service. But these are all intangibles.

When we at Johnson & Johnson are thinking about designing services and service design, it's really looking holistically at what are all of the things that can create a mutual value exchange, so that you're getting something as a provider, I'm getting something as a consumer.

It's one of the things that I really love about service design is that it's so encompassing depending on whether you're creating something for new or making something better. We really think about not so much exclusively pure service or pure product. But I think in the work that we do, a lot of it is this hybrid that goes along this continuum of product to service. We have a lot of services that we focus on that may be grounded in a particular product.

J&J right now is still primarily a manufacturing company. But how do we take some of those products and make them smarter, better, so that they're more service oriented? I like to be able to work at that intersection of both products and services. But sometimes we lean a little bit more towards services. How do we help patients stay engaged, for example? Whereas, on other aspects of our business, we lean a little bit more towards product. We have a skincare that we want to make sure people are getting the right care. How do we create a service to drive them to the right product?

“The design process is really about arranging all of the people, the processes, the products, the ideas, and oftentimes it has to do with the place.”

When I think specifically of service design, given that continuum of products to service, to me, the design process is really about arranging all of the people, the processes, the products, the ideas, and oftentimes it has to do with the place. So, how do we orchestrate this front of house and back of house to make sure that everybody is satisfied and thriving. It’s kind of how we look at it.

I think about it like an orchestra. If you go to see a performance, there's all of these moving parts. Everybody's doing their own best thing. The cello player, the Usher. There's a lot that happens up front so you can experience that performance well, but there's all this stuff that happens in the background the people never see in terms of how that performance is delivered. So, that’s a little bit of my thinking on that.

Wilma Lam,


Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I mean, it's really interesting to hear you talk about like the spectrum from product design to service design. One of the things that I'm curious about is, you know, there's a lot of companies or teams out there that currently do their work primarily in product design, but are increasingly seeing the value or the need, I think, as you mentioned, to have a service related to that product. So, for teams and companies that are making that kind of mindset switch to starting to think about service, what would you say is most important for them to consider? Are there specific techniques you use or ways of thinking that you find helpful?

Mary Quandt:

One of the biggest things that I think about is courage. When we have an already always way of doing things, it's comfortable. Any kind of change means taking risks. There's oftentimes fear involved in that. And so, how do you overcome that or create enough incremental tests to be able to move from a product to a service orientation? I think that there's a lot that we can do.

I mentioned this, I think, a little bit earlier. Data is a big part of this, increasingly. I don't think it's essential to good service but when we're trying to create that transition, I think more and more our products are embedded with data. And then, I think that data is used in such a way that it can provide better services, which are the human interactive parts of that.

“And so, I think focusing on where you can collect data in a way that is transparent, but also incremental is really helpful, because that transition helps you move in to more quality service.”

And then, I think also looking at what kind of data can actually help you serve and create a more human experience is something to really think about. So, a lot of applications, for example, are considered services. I think they're great. I just think that it's also important to think not only about the self-service aspect of it, but the interactions that really help people make the shift in their lives. And so, as organizations are starting to design services, we have to think about how we're preparing our employees to be able to give that kind of service to the people that they're serving.

My short answer is to think about data. But think about data as it serves to create quality human interactions is one of the things that I'm really focused on right now. And that data just in and of itself but for the human benefits so that we can become closer.

Wilma Lam,


Yeah. So, I think just building on this, this importance of kind of like a human benefit, and its connection with design, can you talk a little bit about where this focus came from you and when you started thinking about this as a topic?

Mary Quandt:

Well, for me, at least, that was sort of the core of what was embedded in my master's program. It was sort of driven from that. And so, I think that's kind of just become a little bit of a part of my DNA. But I have to say that I think that it's something that I know that I need to work to keep fresh in my mind because there's so much pressure to deliver results. I really like to be able to look at not only what's possible from a technical perspective, but what is it really serving from a human perspective?

Along the way, I've worked for a number of companies that have gotten increasingly tech driven, which I think is good. But I really wanted to pull back and say, “Well, where are we serving human beings?” And so, I think a lot of where my commitment to human centered design with sort of like a system awareness comes from kind of dipping my toes into a heavily technical perspective and feeling like I want to pull back because that's where I feel like I can serve best. My technical partners can do that. I think it's important. But I really feel like bringing a human centered perspective is where I thrive and have strengths. I'm trying to stick with my core commitment and purpose.

Wilma Lam,


Yeah. And how do you go about bringing this human centered design lens into your work on a more day to day or week to week way?

Mary Quandt:

It's interesting. Increasingly, I'm trying to get back to doing sort of like guerrilla research using friends and family to be able to just sort of those certain ideas and really getting out into the field more to understand what's emerging from what I'm seeing in terms of patterns and just general human interactions. Because I work in healthcare right now, we are highly regulated in a lot of parts of our business so we're not able to have direct interaction with people. So, that's kind of my way to get out there and observe on my own while sort of honoring the regulations that protect healthcare.

The other thing that I would say, Wilma, and I'm curious to know how you guys do this in your business as well is, I'm kind of like in this mode that I know a couple of people have talked about a lot but I'm like, “No prototype, no meeting.” I think observing people, getting out to see what they're doing, but I'm always are increasingly wanting to have like a little something with me. A sketch or something like that to really trigger a different kind of conversation and just see how people react and can build on that.

This concept of sort of interacting with people to get their ideas but using the sacrificial prototypes, I don't care if I throw it away. I'm not trying to validate anything. But using tools like that, to really get people to react to something. The intention is to further their discussion not to really perfect the prototype at certain points in the process. I'm super enjoying that.

The other thing that I'm trying to do, Wilma, and we're trying to figure out ways to do this is to look and get exposure to people that are different than who we are. Sometimes we get into this mode, where we're like, “We have an idea. So, let's get like-minded people or people who will like this to evaluate it.” And increasingly, I'm getting interested in engaging more so with people who have contrary ideas or outliers to be able to influence how we're doing things. Whether that's people from a different culture or level of ability, or part of the world or the country. I think it's really important to diversify who we're talking to, to get input.

This is the unique value of Zoom. I mean, whereas we used to always be face to face and trying to do this direct work. I think there is some real value in expanding our footprint through some of the technology we've been using the last year.

Wilma Lam,


Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense. So, when you're asking earlier about what we do here at Substantial, it is a similar approach to your products, where we're at the prototyping phase. I mean, my general feeling is it's always better to just show something so you can elicit reaction. And then we have like other types of projects where it's a little bit more observational based research or exploratory. We'll also ask participants to imagine kind of what a solution could be in a more hypothetical way or we start showing a concept. I think it's a very similar approach when we were at that point where we think we might have a solution starting to form.

Mary Quandt:

Yeah. It's interesting. When you think about service design when you're prototyping, especially on pure service, it's a whole different ballgame too. So, what's really interesting and helpful for that, I think, is like increasingly, just role playing. Like if I do this, how do you react and sort of doing all this scenario building and simulations. So, your human interactions actually become your prototypes is a really fun thing. It's not novel but just reminding ourselves that it's not just about the artefacts we're showing.

Wilma Lam,


Yeah, I think it's this idea of like the toolkit of what a prototype is as a lot bigger than I think, additionally, what people think it is, which is, you know, you have a paper prototype, we have a digital prototype. In reality, there's a lot more that you can do to try to test out when a product or service will be. I think building on this in terms of kind of techniques and ways in which you work. I know from some of our previous conversations, that appreciative inquiry is a technique that you use when you're thinking about design. For listeners that aren't familiar, can you explain what appreciative inquiry is and where it comes from?

Mary Quandt:

Sure, I'd be happy to. I'm super intrigued by this. I'm learning more and more about appreciative inquiry. I'm really trying to embed it in our practices as a studio. Appreciative inquiry is both a process and a stance. For designers, I think the process is probably pretty predictable. It's labelled differently than our Double Diamond but it's a four-step process that's promoted. Define, discover, dream, and deliver is the way that they talk about it in appreciative inquiry.

It's really about making sure that we're asking the right questions up front so that whole process that we go through of framing. Discover has to do with the research that we do. And then, dream is like, really, how do we take this best stance and sort of design for the future state scenario versus fixing what's been achieved in the past is one of the aspirational aspects of it. And then, deliver is really how do we use an appreciative stance to deliver what is necessary.

Just in terms of like a basic process, that's the process that you go through. When I think of appreciative inquiry as a stance, it's really appropriate for this podcast but it's really about how do you really go into things with an optimistic outlook that's expansive. So, we spend a lot of time designing the right questions to sort of find out where people have been thriving. Where have you felt your best? For example, when we're talking to patients. Where did you really feel like you were winning? How did you celebrate what was great? It's putting a positive spin on the questions that you're asking versus trying to find all the pain points exclusively.

What happens in that process, whether you're working with external people or within an organization, is you find that people really start to light up about how they're winning. And a lot of research has been conducted to show that when you take an appreciative stance or appreciative inquiry, you actually get much better results. I'm going to get out of my comfort zone. But there is actually something about how the brain works when you're asking all the questions in a more positive way that helps you think more creatively and produce differently. So, it's that whole process of designing with the positive in mind.

“Appreciative stance or appreciative inquiry is that whole process of designing with the positive in mind.”

I think, Wilma, that that's increasingly important. It's kind of the difference between sort of pinpointing how do I fix a problem versus in our increasingly complex world where everything's constantly changing, there's a number of factors and so many things emerge on the fly. It really allows for a more expansive way of thinking about what do we want to achieve and how might we achieve it. So, I think all of that is sort of embedded in the appreciative inquiry process and stance.

The last thing that I would say about appreciative inquiry is that embedded in the model and the way of thinking, it is highly participatory. And so, rather than me coming in as a consultant and pretending or being an expert, it's really about engaging the everyone and their ideas so that all of the richness of where success has happened and how to replicate that can come out.

I really appreciate that because I think it's a more satisfying way of designing. I also think that you get at much richer ideas that can then be crafted into something that's meaningful. So, that's been my experience. I've seen it in action recently. It may seem like a subtle shift from what designers typically do, it actually makes a really big difference when you do it intentionally. And you look at your data collection from an appreciative stance, you look at your synthesis from an appreciative stance, you find that you can find good in everything that's useful, which is really great. Yeah. I'm super jazzed about it. Yeah. I want everybody to read a book about it and listen to David Cooperage, who created this technique in the 60s. I think it's really worthwhile.

Wilma Lam,


I really appreciate this topic. I mean, part of the origins of this series was that over the last year and year and a half because of all this destruction. There's been a huge focus on like, these are all the problems we need to fix. I think it's very easy to lose sight of, but what is the future that we're actually trying to create? I think, especially for designers, if you're constantly thinking about all the problems, it can actually wear the team down or you as a designer down to only being looking at the negatives. So, what you're saying is like, actually really looking at things and finding things to appreciate, I imagine is also kind of like a joyful process for a team to actually go through and think in this lens.

Mary Quandt:

Yeah, I think so. I do think it takes something. I grew up in the US. I think that we have a certain way that we've been educated. I think the way that we've been educated is primarily diagnostic. We have this sort of narrowing down process where we're like, we know what's happening, how do we figure out what's, you know. I mean, we're sort of narrowing down. We're taking the component parts and trying to figure out which one do we want to focus on and fix that thing hoping that it will fix the system.

And so, I think when you start working as a team, I think there is a little bit of unlearning that has to happen to get everybody comfortable with working in a more positive way. Because for many of us, at least, I think we've been trained to sort of drill down and fix the pieces versus looking at the system as a whole. And really appreciating all of the dynamics and the complexity around it and embracing that. I have found that it is more joyful but it does take a little bit of training together as a team. Like any team, you know, to know how to operate.

Wilma Lam,


Right. Makes a lot of sense. We've covered a lot of topics today. I know that you've worked in various industries at the intersection of design strategy and technology. So, how do you think this field of thinking and doing has evolved over your time in the industry?

Mary Quandt:

Well, it's interesting, I'm trying to put a lot of thought into it before I speak. But I think one of the biggest things that I see as a change is that the primary solution that most people come up with is typically technology or data driven. I know technology can be a lot of things. But I think the first response is something that tends to be kind of self service and scalable. I am not always sure that that is the best solution for a lot of circumstances, although I do think it creates good business.

So, one of the things that I have appreciated is trying to figure out where to play from these large-scale things that are high growth versus a more artisanal approach to what a product is. I feel like both of those patterns are sort of emerging in the world of design right now. There's an appreciation for, I don't know if it's really two sides of the coin, but it's a different spectrum.

“I really like looking at those types of things because the more scalable things get, the more commoditized they get, which can deteriorate your brand. The more artisanal they are, sometimes the less scalable they are.”

So, where do you find growth? But I think those are things that are really important to start thinking about a little bit.

The other thing that I really think is different in terms of how we're designing and I think this is one of the values of focusing on service design is just like a more purpose driven, more responsible way that people have of purchasing if we have the luxury of being able to do that.

I love the outdoors. Wilma, you know this. I would live in a national park if I could. Protecting the environment is important to me. That is increasingly a part of the conversation for design. I feel like the more we can create services and offset the products that we're making or more responsibly design, the products that we're making by supplementing them with services, that we can be more responsible with the choices that we make, in terms of how we design so that it's protecting us as a people. Not just the land but how we're interacting with one another, I think is a really important consideration as well. And this is where behavior science comes in perhaps. You know, like, the pros and cons of dealing with the unintended consequences of what we've made. We're part of that as designers. I think those are really big shifts in terms of our willingness to both explore and understanding the impact that we have on the choices that we make and what we design.

Wilma Lam,


It's really interesting to hear you talk about some of these big shifts and kind of mindset and industry that have already happened. So, I'm actually interested in hearing from you, then, as you think about the future of design and technology, I think with this kind of lens of appreciative inquiry and what does that ideal future look like, what are you optimistic about for the industry next?

Mary Quandt:

What I'm optimistic about is how all of these emerging things that we're talking about - artificial intelligence, data, more awareness - how can we harness some of that stuff to actually augment what it means to be human? I think that's really interesting. Versus having some of these things replace our decision making or how we operate, how do we have it augment what we're doing so that we can be better, I think is super interesting.

An example that I have comes from one of my recent projects at Johnson and Johnson. I think that it's interesting how some of the things that we're doing from a medical perspective are really enhancing what we already have. I'm trying to think like, whether it's enhancing your vision or your ability to breathe more easily, but it's not replacing anything. It's really taking what we have as human beings further, which, to me is super, super cool. Augmented humanity.

Wilma Lam,


Well, Mary, thank you so much for joining me today and for all the great conversation.

Mary Quandt:

Well, thank you. I love talking with you Wilma.

Wilma Lam,


It's always fun to catch up with you, Mary. Thank you everyone out there for watching this episode. To follow along and hear the most recent releases, head to Please join us next month as we continue to take a future focus look at design, ethical innovation, and technology. I’m Wilma Lam, and I look forward to talking with you again soon. Bye!

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