Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Mauro Porcini, SVP & Chief Design Officer at PepsiCo, a multi-billion-dollar American corporation with more than 250,000 employees. It is the second largest food and beverage company in the world, and the largest in North America.
The first part of this interview focused on how PepsiCo embraces failure and gets to the root of customer needs and can be found on Innovation Leader. But Mauro had so much design and innovation wisdom to share that he agreed to stay after hours and answer more questions.
Mauro Porcini joined PepsiCo in 2012 as its first Chief Design Officer and began infusing design thinking into PepsiCo’s culture and leading a new approach to innovation by design across the company’s popular product platforms and brands, as well as new platforms such as Alternative Hydration (water personalization and consumption beyond the bottle) and Spire (Smart Fountains for drinks customization).
The team’s efforts extend from physical to virtual expressions of the brands, and to the company’s focus on sustainability. In the past seven years the PepsiCo design team has won more than 1,000 Design and Innovation awards.
To dive deeper into innovation at PepsiCo I posed the following questions:
Why is innovation important to PepsiCo?
Innovation is an absolutely fundamental, core value at PepsiCo. It’s a key ingredient in the company’s success and continued growth. Our daily work as designers within PepsiCo is to keep our innovation pipeline as human-centered as possible, as well as agile, flexible, reactive and in-tune with global and local trends. This requires a multi-disciplinary effort that involves close collaboration with other functions like R&D, Marketing, Strategy, Consumer Insights, and Manufacturing to ensure we are unlocking the full potential of our brands.
Mauro, I see you’re already connecting innovation and design. Let’s dig into that.
What do you see as the intersection between innovation and design, and why is this intersection important?
The reality is that design and innovation are one and the same. Innovation is all about people. Innovation is about imagining, designing and developing meaningful solutions for people’s needs and wants. As designers, we are trained in three dimensions: human science (desirability), business (viability) and technology (feasibility). In the projects my global design team works on at PepsiCo, we connect these three dimensions to create products, brands, experiences and services that are relevant to the communities we design for. We call this approach “design”; the world often calls it “innovation.”
It’s interesting that you see innovation and design as synonyms where many see design instead as a path to innovation. Let’s explore what it takes to excel at design.
What are some of the most important differences between doing design and being a design leader that innovators and designers should be aware of?
Being a design leader means that you are pushing the boundaries, going beyond the norm and what’s expected, to deliver innovations in a way that’s not just process-driven and rational, but also emotional, intuitive and artisanal. Many of our iconic brands like Pepsi, Gatorade, Quaker and Doritos have been part of our culture for a long time, and yet as designers we need to constantly think about how to keep them fresh and relevant. In design, 100% of the time, your job is to do something different than before. We should be obsessed with innovation in everything we do – it’s the driver of progress.
Let’s talk about the two-liter bottle redesign.
What was the impetus, what resistance did you face, and what excited you about this design challenge?
This was a really exciting project as it was the first redesign of the PepsiCo 2 Liter bottle, which is a central part of the portfolio, in decades. It began with a simple prompt and challenge – how can we make the 2 Liter bottle better? – and an innovation journey was underway, beginning in 2018 as a collaboration between the PepsiCo Beverages North America business, and the Design and R&D functions.
Studying the consumer experience and using a human-centered design approach, our teams went through thousands of sketches and hundreds of prototypes to land where we are today. One of the challenges was finding the right balance of holding pressure and bottle stability, while still working within the organization’s existing manufacturing capabilities. We’ve optimized the thickness of the bottle to range between 0.008 inch to 0.012 inch to meet all of the different functional needs of our bottles, from the factory to consumers’ hands.
PepsiCo is constantly striving to deliver the best experience possible with our products, and the new design provides a modern, functional, and easy-to-use bottle that is undeniably PepsiCo. The design moves from a stock 2 Liter shape across the entire portfolio to one that celebrates the iconic branding and stands out on shelves:
- The MTN DEW bottle design heroes the brand’s bold edges and style.
- The Pepsi bottle design takes cues from the brand’s iconic globe branding with a fluid, joyful design.
- The third design that will live across the remaining portfolio features a flowing ripple effect.
A redesign of the two-liter bottle design was definitely overdue. Your team has created something that is not just easier for people to use, but also provides the opportunity for PepsiCo to include more branding elements and deepen connections to the brand. This leads nicely into my next couple of questions.
Why is it more important to be in love with your customers than to try and satisfy them?
I have always promoted a human centered approach to business, to innovation, to life. An approach that prioritizes the most fundamental needs of human beings – their true wants and needs. We care about people and making them happy, and that’s the focus you need to have. It’s about creating something WITH them, then observing how they react and quickly adapting based on feedback. You can feel this human touch at PepsiCo even more now amid the pandemic. You can feel how much our organization loves people and cares about meeting their needs. We’ve all had the opportunity to rebalance priorities in life during this crisis and we’re coming out of it with that balance in place, and there’s a different kind of connection and empathy that will inform our work moving forward. Our design team will need to be even more focused on striking the right balance between listening to people and what they want, but also having the leadership, vision, courage and intuition to drive change for the better – delivering those innovative products that are more nutritious and more sustainable.
One recent project that I particularly love is SodaStream Professional, which is an eco-friendly hydration platform that offers a unique way for people to personalize hydration and reduce single-use packaging at the same time. Users can choose from various unsweetened flavors, carbonation levels and temperatures to create the perfect drink. You can also use the SodaStream Connect app on your phone and it tells you how many bottles you’ve been saving. My team was involved from start to finish, helping create the platform’s intuitive user experience, as well as the physical look and feel. The challenge was to design a unit that delivers a great water beverage all-in-one unit, while also seamlessly integrating into kitchen environments. The machine can recognize your customized formula through a QR code on your bottle, which makes it ideal for a contactless experience, which is something we’ve been thinking more about amid the pandemic. Even in a future where we will go back to some form of contact, this new contactless innovation will still be there to add value because it is faster, more convenient and more user-friendly.
It’s definitely a challenge for all of us to dig deep enough to get to the most authentic and impactful wants and needs of our customers.
Do you have any tips for organizations trying to get better at empathy, listening and understanding to become better innovators?
Leaders with great empathy, sensitivity, curiosity, optimism, resilience, and agility will be the drivers of great innovation and great business. You have to be eager about connecting with your customers and really understanding who they are, what they want, their passions and pain points. Designers are uniquely equipped and trained to take chances, embrace failure and experimentation, ask questions, and focus on end users. But this is a new mindset for many traditional business executives, so it’s the role of designers to help companies build these skills and the right culture to spur innovation.
My keywords for any organization are curiosity, diversity, dialogue and respect. Innovation is all about looking at what everybody else looks at and seeing opportunities that nobody else saw before. To be able to do that, you need to challenge yourself to think outside the box. My strategy to accomplish that is pretty simple. You need the curiosity of a child. You need to surround yourself with people that are different than you and embrace them as much as possible. And you need to establish a dialogue with them, full of empathy and respect. Through that dialogue, collectively, you will be able to build new and unique perspectives. That will be the starting point of your innovation process.
There is some good advice in there Mauro for designers and leaders. I can tell you’re very passionate about these topics. I know most innovators would agree that dialog and diversity of thought are important to uncovering potential innovation, but let’s explore curiosity a bit more.
What are you most curious about right now? What are you working on learning about or mastering right now to help the team?
I am always curious and engaging in conversations with colleagues, friends, people outside the CVS near my apartment in New York City, people with very diverse backgrounds from mine, because the more you engage in these conversations and listen to people, the more inspired you will become and the more you will realize inspiration is everywhere.
Right now, I’m working on writing a book and recording the next season of the In Your Shoes podcast, and both of these projects serve as sources of inspiration for me. These are intimate experiences full of color, anecdotes and life that I’ll ultimately be sharing with my team and the broader design community and hope that they are also inspired. I am driven by generating value for the world and believe that if each of us creatives is driven by the same purpose, in every project, every day, then we will have the incredible opportunity of imagining, designing and producing a better world. That’s what really excites me and makes me optimistic about the future.
It’s great to see all the energy you and your team are investing not only in spreading the love of design and innovation inside of PepsiCo, but outside of the company with your web site and podcast as well. It’s definitely true that as organizations raise their baseline innovation and design understanding and capabilities, the individuals and the organization can go farther, faster.
Thank you so much Mauro for staying after hours and giving us a peek behind the curtain at the thinking driving innovation at PepsiCo. I hope everyone takes away from our conversation the importance of experimentation, building a broad base of knowledge and support for design and innovation across the organization and the power of this to drive curiosity and dialog.
— All images courtesy of PepsiCo