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At a glance...

My Role

Design Researcher

Design Strategist

Tools and Methods

Desk Study



As part of a course, Northwestern Mutual (NM) had collaborated with  IIT Institute of Design for exploring future trends that are of high value to their business and the insurance industry in general. As a team of four, we decided to explore and develop ways in which NM can think about possible futures and opportunities for innovation. The goal was to communicate the design in a suitable manner leading to actionable outcomes.


Masaya Tezuka

Meghna Prakash

Camille Martinez

Project reading time : ~ 10 minutes

Sujith Samuel


August - December 2023

"How might we create a system for Northwestern Mutual to help them envision possible futures of the coming decades"

What did the client say

" Quite often, when organizations do research, the big problem that often breaks down or falls apart is the transition from research to meaning. And what I've seen happen in the past is most of them did not really point towards what to do with the research.

Here, what I see that you guys have done is you've done tons of research. Then chronicle eyes on timeline, whatever your analysis, so that you made sense of patterns. But also then you took them and turn it into a way to interact with the research itself to help us formulate an answer in the future".


- Principal Senior Director, Design  



This project aims to find ways for Northwestern Mutual (NM), a traditional insurance company, to attract and retain customers and establish long-term relationships. It will involve researching trends, the current financial environment, and Northwestern Mutual's plans to identify opportunities for improvement. The goal is to use these tools and resources to support innovation throughout the company by using a human-centered approach and incorporating research and insights through design-based methods.

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How can we help NM's C-suite employees to envision horizon 3 future scenarios and address challenges posed by them? 


We created a toolkit to spark conversations about key influences shaping the environment in decades to come (2050)  and how they may unfold.



With the information sourced from the client, Our team started by looking through trends and analogies of how the insurance industry works in the context of the United states as well as globally. In addition to four client meetings, this project involved user testing and the interplay of processes between each phase.



Analysis + Synthesis

  • Historic data research

  • Case Study

  • Market Study

  • Discontinuities

  • Era analysis

  • Casual Logic frameworks

  • Trend Analysis


  • Toolkit creation

  • User testing

  • Design and communication

Methods used for analysis of research


Abstraction ladder framework.


Causal logic framework


Discontinuities Framework

We started out with abstracting the idea of insurance to security from risk, using abstraction ladder framework. This framework grounded our whole research process . This helped in reframing the problem statement to "How can we identify changes in risk landscape over history and how can we extrapolate it to the future to identify see the threats to insurance industry".

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After initial stage of research about the insurance industry and one stage of client meetings, we synthesized the research data using Era analysis, Discontinuities and Future trend analysis. This helped us to understand that Northwestern Mutual being a company of 165 years of history, It is hard to bring in disruptive innovation. 

These insights from our research and interactions with the client helped us to develop a solution that would  help NM employees to ideate and create conversations around future environments and influences that would influence the organization. 

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Our approach was to develop a future-casting toolkit for Northwestern mutual that can help them to do future scenario exercises and with backcasting techniques, see how what key influences will shape the coming decades in the financial industry, and how NM can provide new offerings to be relevant.

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The purpose of our offering

1: Templatize Northwestern Mutual's future casting process

2: Inspire Northwestern Mutual employees to practice out-of-the-box ideation

3: Create an insights database

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"You take the blue pill... the story ends, you wake up in your bed
and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill...
you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes."

- Morpheus, the film “The Matrix”


The "Red Pill" toolkit was developed to spark conversations about key influences that will shape the environment in the coming decades and how they might play out. These investigations are not exhaustive nor forecasts. They are meant to present alternate perspectives on the future. This toolset can serve as a jumping off point for investigating conceivable environmental change scenarios. Northwestern Mutual can use it to evaluate organizational strategy, rank topics for more study, or just as a reminder of the value of long-term planning.

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The toolkit includes a set of 15 driving force cards, 9 Wildcards (surprising occurrences that, if they happened, would have a game-changing effect), and a collection of 4 future-casting worksheets. These assets can be used in workshops or brainstorming sessions to identify future scenarios and think about how their current offerings might evolve to to be relevant in that future.

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Driving force cards (DF) - 15

Driving force cards are a set of external and internal variables that can shape the future world. These can influence the course of direction of strategies, policies and decisions made in an organization.

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Wild Cards (WC) - 9

Wild cards are unexpected events that, if they occur, could have game-changing consequences. They denote an unpredictable, high-impact, unpleasant occurrence that is rationalized when it occurs as predicted.

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Future-casting worksheets (FW) - 4

These worksheets are designed to create future scenarios by imagining how DFs and Wildcards might interact. This provides a platform to brainstorm the opportunities and challenges that those scenarios present.

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Redpill guide - How to use the kit

This toolkit is best used in teams of at least 2 or more members. Below are the steps to be followed to facilitate the exercise:

1.  The DF pile (D1–15) and the Wildcard pile (W1–9) will be placed face-down next to each other after the facilitator has individually shuffled the two sets of cards.

2.  The participants will then select two cards from the DF pile and one from the Wildcard pile. After drawing the cards, read through them critically and select one trajectory from each DF card that is most impactful for the organization.

3.  The participants will then be guided through an imaginative synthesis exercise with their chosen trajectories and a wild card to create future scenarios.

4.  After creating the scenarios, participants will try to identify and address the needs of the organization in such a world through a series of worksheets. The exercise will end with a backcasting process of the ideas to see what is actions relevant today to prepare for the future.


" This is amazing work. You should really be incredibly proud of what you pulled together. This is worth of multi-million dollar project by a big consulting firm" 

- Principal Senior Director, Design  


01.  User testing is very important

Even though we had little to less time to do iterative prototyping, the two rounds of user testing was so powerful that it broke many biases that I had. Sometimes it is hard to accept that something that works well for you might not be the best solution for others.

02.  Innovation is not just generating ideas, it is also about defining constraints.

Working with limited amount of information from the client, the extensive research phase made us diverge so wildly that synthesis became hard. This project made me understand that it is okay to let go of ideas if it is not bounded by constraints. It is easier to lose track of the actual problem when you diverge so much.

03.  Be vocal.

Speaking up is crucial in a collaborative environment. Understanding differences and providing opinions are very powerful. It will make sure that everyone is aware of the progress.

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