Mendoza School of Business

Wine and Design

Published: October 10, 2019 / Author: Ryan Millbern

Professor Wendy Angst and MBA students in her Innovation and Design course are using design thinking to help Chappellet Vineyards, a member of the Notre Dame family of wines, evolve their brand.

How Notre Dame MBA students are using design thinking to shape the future of Chappellet Vineyards

Over the last seven years, Professor Wendy Angst and her students in the Mendoza College of Business’ Innovation and Design course have applied design thinking—a systematic application of ethnological research, ideation, prototyping and customer co-creation—to a wide range of business problems for real companies in real time.

Students work in teams and consult with a client throughout the semester to develop innovations grounded in discovering the unmet needs of current and future customers.

For the Disney Channel, they explored what the Disney Channel will look like in 2025 as children expect content on demand and engage on multiple devices; for Seventeen magazine, they sought to understand the future of print and how a publication can continue to play a meaningful role in the lives of young readers consuming the majority of their content digitally; for Live Nation, they looked at how to re-envision the live music experience and increase brand loyalty with the organization behind the performances.

This year, Professor Angst and her students are exploring how Chappellet Vineyards, a 52-year-old family-run winery in Napa Valley, can connect with current and future consumers, best utilize technology to bolster their customers’ wine experience, and reimagine their wine club.

This is the first installment of a three-part story tracking their journey from South Bend to Napa Valley.

It all begins with the customer

The students are split into teams, each addressing one of Chappellet’s aforementioned business objectives. Teams spend the three weeks of the course immersing themselves in the industry through a wide range of ethnographic research – including direct and analogous observation, contextual interviews, card sorts and graffiti walls to help them deeply understand the unmet needs of current and potential Chappellet consumers.

Mary Coghlin ’20 and her team gathered information to help improve the Chappellet wine club experience. Their research took them from bars to craft breweries to the homes of consumers. “We spoke with wine club members and wine drinkers who aren’t in clubs. We went to bars and liquor stores with them; we went into their homes and asked them how they chose wine and where they learned about wine. The main goal is to be able to empathize with the user rather than just reacting to cold trends.”

Students supplemented their consumer research with insight from industry experts. “We talked to bartenders to find out what types of questions people were asking about wine,” Coghlin adds. “We also spoke with people in wine sales.”

Connor Nielsen ’20, whose team is exploring how to attract millennials to the Chappellet brand, interviewed a marketing executive for Barefoot. “Although Chappellet and Barefoot will never compete against each other based on price, Barefoot gets the next generation to buy wine more than any other label. We wanted to find out what they’re doing and if there are any possible synergies.”

Gallery Day

Once the research was complete, the teams came together to present their findings at an event called Gallery Day. “We had all the work up on the boards,” Nielsen recalls. “It was organized chaos, but it was beautiful at the same time.”

Professor Angst brought in Matt Alverson, a Notre Dame graduate and partner at IA Collaborative, a Chicago-based design thinking consultancy that has worked with global brands ranging from Nike to Samsung to Airbnb. “Matt and I helped the students think about the different patterns their research had revealed, and also about things customers need that they can’t quite seem to articulate,” Angst says.

“Matt told us to focus on what we learned about human behavior that would then drive what we would design,” Coghlin says. “That was a great piece of feedback.”

“Matt was a great resource in terms of how we thought about selling wine to the Millennial generation,” Nielsen says. “With celebrity chefs and high-end restaurants, millennials are paying for the food experience. He helped us to arrive at the insight of pairing Chappellet brand experiences with food.”

Through Gallery Day, students synthesized their research and identified key insights to reframe their challenge. From there they ideated possible solutions before building out low-fidelity prototypes. Prototypes were then introduced to their target persona and the feedback refined into concepts that they will present to Chappellet in the coming weeks. “At this stage, I’m very excited to present,” Nielsen says. “We’ve done a lot of hard work and it will be great to share our recommendations with Chappellet.”

The power of design thinking

While the students are excited about the future—which culminates with a trip to Chappellet Vineyards in Napa Valley—they also reflected on what they’ve learned throughout the research phase of the project about the value of design thinking.

“The most important thing about design thinking is that you can’t go in with any preset idea or hypothesis,” Nielsen notes. “You have to stay very open minded for a very long time and trust the darkness. Toward the end, you’ll eventually see which way to go. It was a challenge and uncomfortable, but those are definitely moments where you experience growth.”

“Sometimes we get a spreadsheet that says what’s going on with a market or what we think is going on,” Coghlin says, “but you can discover so much more when you understand the human behavior behind a trend.”

Professor Angst touts the course’s ability to get MBA students to think beyond the data. “We spend a lot of time focusing on analytics and finance and hardcore quantitative skills; it’s nice to give the students a different perspective on problem solving. Through this course, students are developing skills that will enable them to approach problems in a consumer-centric way. The design thinking mindset emphasizes skills and methods to engage consumers early and often, and to have empathy for those they’re devising solutions for, regardless of problem or the industry.”

*This is the first installment in a three-part series detailing how Professor Wendy Angst and her MBA students in the Innovation and Design course are using design thinking to help Chappellet Vineyards, a 52-year-old family-run winery in Napa Valley, evolve their brand. Design thinking is the systematic application of ethnographic research, ideation, prototyping and customer co-creation to a business’s existing needs.

Part Two details the students’ first round of recommendations to Chappellet Vineyards.


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