Friday, August 29, 2008

How Do You Re-Design an Icon?

David Butler became the design director for Coca-Cola almost five years ago. There are few companies with a richer design heritage than Coca-Cola. Butler had previously been director of brand strategy at the interactive marketing and consulting firm Sapient. He says Coke gave him "the Post-it Note mandate: We need to do more with design. Go figure it out." He wrote a 30-page manifesto laying out a design strategy for the company. He has learned the most effective way to implement design strategy at a company as large and complex as Coca-Cola: avoid the word "design" as much as possible.

"If I'm at a meeting with manufacturing people, I'll say: 'How can we make the can feel colder, longer?'," he says as an example. "Or, 'How can we make the cup easier to hold?'" In other words, he talks about the benefits of smart design in a language to which those he's talking to can relate. Based on several recent brand redesigns—including the new Coke identity work that won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions awards program in June—and innovations such as an aluminum bottle (left) and a new family of coolers, this approach seems to be working. Butler leads a team of 60 designers—a mix of graphic and industrial designers, some poached from companies such as Apple (AAPL), Nike (NKE), MTV (VIA), Target (TGT), and Electrolux—at four centers around the world. All are focused on what Butler describes as a "fix the basics" strategy.

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