Q&A with the Winners of the Penn Design Challenge


What is the premise of the Penn Design Challenge and what was this year’s challenge?

The Penn Design Challenge is a competition that brings together students across Wharton, Penn Design and Penn Engineering to apply design thinking toward real world problems. The Wharton Innovation & Design Club (ID) partnered with American Express and innovation accelerator Made by Many to present this year’s challenge, aimed at advancing financial inclusion and improving the experience for underbanked consumers.

After a 3 week sprint of workshops, ideation, sticky-noting and prototyping, 10 teams presented their ideas to American Express executives during the finale. The ideas were aimed to help American Express rethink how underbanked consumers manage their spending and interact with finances.


What were your first thoughts when you found out what this year’s challenge was?

I was super intrigued and knew immediately that I wanted to participate in it for a numbers of reasons:

1) As a form American Express employee, I have a deep admiration for the brand and it’s passion on quality consumer experiences

2) I am fascinated with the intersection of consumer experiences and innovation, and I think this year’s design challenge is a great application of both of these

3) I’m also very familiar with the work that American Express is doing as a company to develop products that better serve the unbanked, underbanked and “”unhappily”” banked populations, and I’m passionate about how payments innovation could better serve these under-served segments.

4) My first exposure to design thinking was last year with the Innovation & Design club, when they co-hosted ProductHack – a day-long design thinking workshop and competitive hackathon. Since then, I continue to seek opportunities to strengthen my skills in applying design thinking toward consumer-centric problems.”


How did you assemble your team? Is this the first time you’ve done a competition like this?

This was my first time doing such a competition; I’ve always been intimidated by them. So was really rewarding when I found out we won it, especially around a topic I’m personally passionate about.

All of the teams were actually assembled by the ID club to ensure that they were all diversified in having at least one Wharton student, one Design student, and one Engineering student. In hindsight I believe this was a great approach versus having us choose our own teams, which would likely have been more homogeneous, with all Wharton teams or all Design students just because people would’ve chosen to be with people they know. Working with a group from different disciplines was really cool and made the value and learning part of participating in the challenge that much more rich.


What was your final pitch and what was the process like?

Today, consumers can sign-up for American Express’s pre-paid product, Serve, in two locations: on-line on the Amex website or at partner retailers such as CVS. Our final pitch entailed a Serve branded kiosk solution that would 1) elevate overall awareness about the Serve pre-paid card and 2) improve the in-store customer acquisition experience for new those newly signing up for the Serve card. This idea came from insights that we collected during our user research, which led us to redefining American Express’s problem statement: How can Serve be more engaging in generating awareness around this awesome product.


What did it feel like when you heard that you were the winners?

Amazing! I literally fist-pumped in front of everyone immediately after they mentioned our team name, an embarrassing, knee-jerk moment.


Are you planning on continuing to work on this product?

Not in the near future but I am planning to work in the payments/fintech space after school, and so my hope is that my career would eventually intersect with the financial inclusion space at some point again in the future.


—The winning team: Aditi Dugar, Ivan-Thibault Pham, Monica Myers, Lorenzo Zavala Carvajal, Aobo Zhou, and Elaine Lai

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