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michael mckay ørsted

Ørsted: Design and Green Energy go Hand in Hand

16. Nov 2022

More and more Danish companies are becoming aware of the benefits of design for business and long-term growth. This development is evident at green energy giant Ørsted, where design thinking and practices permeate the entire company

Long reads

The survey: Design Delivers Green

A new survey conducted by The Confederation of Danish Industry (DI) and DDC – Danish Design Center, Design Delivers Green, shows that Danish companies increasingly recognize the value of design in creating economic value and innovation. Design is also becoming more and more widespread throughout companies. Around 90 percent of the companies that use design strategically say that it improves their bottom line and strengthens their brand, competitiveness, and customer satisfaction.

Ørsted is a leader in the renewable energy industry, with an extensive portfolio of wind farms, solar farms, and other interconnected technologies, driving green transformation worldwide. An organization made up of experts, specialists, and highly skilled academics, all contributing their expertise and knowledge to shape the direction of green energy. Today, designers are also a precious resource, playing an indispensable role throughout the company.

Michael McKay is Head of the Design Center of Excellence at Ørsted and is responsible for the company’s new design direction. Mr. McKay, who has extensive experience implementing strategic design at major technology companies such as eBay, PayPal, and Nokia, joined Ørsted just three years ago. When he joined the Danish energy company, there were few designers in the hallways. Today, it’s a very different story, though, with design embedded in nearly every product and strategic business decision that the energy giant makes.

"Designers and design thinking have become cornerstones in Ørsted's corporate culture. It's actually difficult to imagine an organization without either of these."

Michael McKay

Head of Design Center of Excellence, Ørsted

Join our free DDC Talks event Harness the Power of Design: How to Build a Smarter, Greener Business, on December 7, 2022.

You’ll meet Michael and hear more about how he and Ørsted use design to produce green energy. You’ll also hear from Camilla Haustrup Hermansen, Deputy CEO and Co-Owner of Plus Pack. Read an interview with her here.

It’s about trust and cooperation

In recent years, Ørsted has undergone significant changes in its approach to design. This change has primarily been driven by trust and a number of different methods to spread the value of design among colleagues across the organization.

In Ørsted’s product development team, Michael and his design team have focused on bringing key skills in development, programming, and UX together with the designer. The outcome of the new collaborative process was clear from the start: working more closely with the designer increases the chances of developing a successful product or service. “Mostly, it was about getting them to accept a design agenda and understand all of our design expressions,” Michael recalls of the approach.

Put on the designer glasses

Michael and his design team also spent a lot of time identifying some of the most complex challenges the company faces daily. 

For example, Ørsted has long been looking for ways to help its operators automate energy trading. A task that requires an enormous amount of important information from weather forecasts, stock market prices, and the electricity consumption of many countries. Also, it requires many screens and cognitive capabilities to gather all the necessary information and place trades internally.

Michael and his co-designers devised a solution to this challenge by putting eye-tracking glasses on the operator and recording a typical machine room day. The spectacles could track the operator’s eye movements and design a journey through all the data, the operator was engaged with. Using the recordings, Ørsted was suddenly able to track the operator’s workflow and provide the entire company with important information and guidelines for automating some of the energy trading processes. 

The approach proved quite successful and opened the company’s eyes to the importance of integrating design when solving complex problems. According to Michael, one of the main reasons for the success was that it all started with an understanding of the people involved in the process.

"A complex system is run by people; if we can understand the people and their roles, we can design the system. Even where automation is desired."

Michael McKay

Head of Design Center of Excellence, Ørsted

Design is all around us

Looking at Ørsted today, it’s impossible to miss the importance and daily implementation of design. In just three years, the company has gone from having little contact with design to using design as a driving force in many projects. This also means that designers and design methods are incorporated earlier and more thoroughly into the company’s new products and services. In addition, designers are now much closer to implementing strategy in the various business units and are today an integral part of the management team.

Design thinking and methods are being used in more and more areas of the company. In practice, this means that designers at Ørsted are moving from an advisory to a mentoring role. In Michael’s opinion, this reflects how design permeates corporate culture and proves there’s no patent on the ‘design’ itself.

"It should not just be designers who are able to do this - it needs to be a culture of 'consulting to culture' where all professions understand design thinking and working practices."

Michael McKay

Head of Design Center of Excellence, Ørsted

Michael also argues that designers should become overall catalysts rather than having an army of designers who only work with design. This is critical to Ørsted’s long-term direction and most of the problems the company will need to solve in the long term if it is to meet its goal of supplying the world with green energy. 

“In an increasingly digitized, complex, and unpredictable future, design becomes one of the most important parameters. It is crucial to bring creative and generative elements to the table,” Michael says, adding that this is only the beginning of a much more extensive design journey for Ørsted.

About Ørsted

Ørsted is a Danish multinational energy company that develops, builds, and operates wind farms, solar farms, and energy storage and provides energy products to their customers. It’s Denmark’s largest energy company, with nearly 7.000 employees spread across three continents: Europe, North America, and Asia.

The company was founded in 1972.

Anne Ravnholt Juelsen

Journalist & Communications Strategist (on maternity leave)

Phone +45 5150 0983
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