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ID students place second in international Rotman Design Challenge

Six designers create human-centered interventions for people new to Canada and beloved retailer Canadian Tire

By Andrew Connor

In Canada, Canadian Tire is an institution. The store was founded in 1922 but has since grown into one of the country’s biggest retail chains, selling homewares, sporting goods, and hardware in addition to automobile parts. Roughly 90 percent of the Canadian populace lives within a 15-minute drive of a Canadian Tire store.

Yet while the brand name has plenty of recognition among long-term Canadian citizens and residents, for people moving to the country for the first time the brand means very little. And these new Canadian residents are projected to make up 30 percent of the nation’s population by 2036.

Team IDeate, a group of six Institute of Design students—Justin Bartkus (MDes+ MBA 2021), Kanal Chhajed (MDes 2021), Grace Hanford (MDes + MBA. 2021), Ruohua Huang (MDes + MBA 2022), Jocelyn Jia (MDes + MBA 2022), and Jeff Sprague (MDes 2022)—sought to address the “New Canadian” audience (a term coined by the team) in this year’s Rotman Design Challenge, an annual business design challenge organized by the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management

The students were one of 16 finalists selected from an international pool of 39 teams, including the University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and Parsons School of Design.

We started our research by asking people living in Canada what their perception of Canadian Tire is. We found that for people born in Canada, their perception of the brand is really nostalgic and loyal. They have a lot of childhood memories associated with the brand, whereas people who have only been in Canada for a couple years, they do not have those memories. When we got these two very different answers we started to think about the gap between these two groups and how to make holistic brand recognition for everyone.
Jocelyn Jia (MDes+ MBA 2022)

“We are an inclusive team, our team members come from different cultural backgrounds and have various industry experience, and I think it becomes one of our strengths across the whole competition,” adds Huang. “We utilized our personal networks to recruit participants and collect voices from different perspectives, which led us to that insight.”

Canadian Tire welcome box for new Canadian residents
Illustration of the Canadian Tire welcome box, introducing new residents to both Canada and Canadian Tire.

In an effort to meet new Canadians where they are, the team devised a number of concepts meant to prepare them for and help them get the most out of Canadian life. They would not only help new Canadians approach the challenges of starting life in a new country, but it would also help them develop their own Canadian identity. Moreover, the interventions would be relatively easy to implement by leveraging many of the services Canadian Tire already has to offer.

We made sure to have interventions that are very specific to that customer target group of new Canadians, and did not require Canadian Tire to change their existing business strategies. Canadian Tire would just need to have these small interventions to accommodate these new Canadians coming to the country who need a place to go for all their functional needs.
Kanal Chhajed (MDes 2021)

Those interventions range from information kiosks in airports and support desks in stores, to welcome packages and guides to life in Canada. The aim is to treat new Canadians as neighbors while also providing them with the information they need about starting a life in Canada. The proposal stresses that these interventions must appear early in the new Canadian experience to reduce the possibility of them being blindsided by unexpected challenges.

Illustration of Canadian Tire welcome booklets for new Canadian residents.
Illustration of Canadian Tire welcome booklets for new Canadian residents.

“If we could create uniquely Canadian memories for new Canadians it would be a great win,” says Sprague. “But by talking to people we learned that it was in the transitional period that they needed help. Enjoying Canada for all its natural, wonderful goodness is something that they can do, but we have to do something to get them to that point during the first year, the first week, the first day.”

While the designers created their interventions with new Canadians in mind, their methods provide an opportunity for Canadian Tire and other retailers to improve experiences and increase brand loyalty among all potential consumers.

Brands know they have to start speaking to a deeper part of people’s values and identity; this is one template for how to do that, by making themselves partner to a transformative and challenging journey that is already playing out. One of the things we’re learning from retail is people buy out of a sense of identity, they buy out of aspirations and values. For new Canadians, there’s a very clear and obvious set of background culture and traditional values you are trying to speak to, but if you can sell solutions to people’s identities, that is a smart, insightful, and impactful thing for retailers to do.
Justin Bartkus (MDes+ MBA 2021)

With the team’s second-place win for 2021, this marks the fourth time an ID team has placed top three in the challenge. The Rotman Business Design Challenge is coordinated by Rotman’s business design program, which was created nearly two decades ago with the help of Patrick Whitney, ID’s former dean. In completing their proposal, Team IDeate received critical feedback and guidance from ID faculty members Jeremy Alexis, Mark Jones, and Tomoko Ichikawa.

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