For Mauro Porcini, design is the key to making a corporation like PepsiCo relevant. He joined the company in 2012 after a 10-year stint as Chief Design Officer at 3M, and has focused his efforts on creating a company culture that embraces design thinking to make the food and beverage giant more nimble, and create experiences that grow the brand.
At the 2016 Fast Company Innovation Festival, Porcini cited five books that have shaped his design philosophy and helped him implement it in such a large corporation.
The internet has brought about fundamental changes in the way many people access information and consume goods. Porcini’s thinking about these shifts is informed by Being Digital, the 1995 book by the founder of the MIT Media Lab, Nicholas Negroponte.
“He was dreaming of this digital assistant, that is like his assistant but he could put in his pocket and carry with him, that could filter all the information that was relevant for him and meaningful for him,” says Porcini. “Today this is the role of social media.”
Social media has opened up a new valence for customers to interact with brands, shifting the interaction to one where brands have less control. But tapping into social media networks can give brands the ability to amplify their message. “While in the past we would buy the right to be part of the conversation, today we need to earn the right to be part of the conversation,” he says. “You earn that right by being meaningful to people, by doing cool things, by doing relevant things, things that change the lives of people.”
Those are the kinds of experiences that people want to share—and Porcini says it’s important for brands to figure out how to create enough of an emotional response in someone that they’re motivated to share. The company has done this through campaigns like the Fizz Bar, which uses soft drink mixology and custom soda drinks to inspire customers to share their experience, or by sponsoring the Super Bowl, where it featured interactive games and displayed abstract Pepsi bottle sculptures at the entrance to the stadium.
Staying authentic is an important part of any brand, Porcini says, and that’s particularly difficult if you’re a large corporation.
For inspiration, Porcini looks to the biography Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. He points out one particular detail of Jobs’s mission—his dedication to making every aspect of the iPhone elegant, even the circuit boards that the customers would never see. Porcini sees this as the ultimate gesture of authenticity: that Jobs’s vision permeated every possible touchpoint of the customer experience, even if it was one they wouldn’t necessarily see.
“I think it’s an amazing book no matter if you are a designer, entrepreneur, or if you don’t work in business at all,” Porcini says. “For me, one of the key messages of the book was the authenticity that Steve Jobs was able to embed into his mission at Apple. It’s a story of entrepreneur who has a story and sticks to it and every touchpoint is built around that vision.”
This is the kind of dedication to authenticity that Porcini believes is necessary to any company that wants to be successful, from a large corporation to the smallest startup—and it must be protected. The newly opened Kola House, a restaurant, bar, and nightclub in the Meatpacking District in Manhattan, is meant to be a social hub around Pepsi products—though you might never realize that the place is run by the beverage company. But that’s exactly the point. Pepsi wants to engage with customers in a way that isn’t overpowering, but instead authentic, fostering a more organic relationship with the brand.
One of Porcini’s central tasks is to design meaningful experiences that strengthen consumers’ relationships with PepsiCo, as he’s doing at Kola House. But how do you design meaning?
Porcini thinks of it in two parts: first, the meaning created from the individual pleasure a user gets from a product, and second, the message that product or brand sends to others around the user. In his view, it’s the role of designers to shape these messages.
It’s a conception of meaning through product design that’s discussed in the book Overcrowded: Designing Meaningful Products in a World Awash with Ideas, which will be published in January 2017 by MIT Press (Porcini has read it early). “As marketers, as designers, as innovative entrepreneurs, we need to think about what is the meaning of what we’re designing,” he says.”
Porcini relies on the 2005 book Emotional Design by Don Norman for its framework for creating meaningful products and experiences. Norman discusses three phases of interaction we have with people and places—and Porcini applies those ideas to corporations and brands.
The first is the visceral reaction someone has to a person or product: “It’s the butterfly in your stomach. It’s the first impact with something that eventually you love or eventually you hate—but either way it creates a reaction in you,” he explains.
The second is the interactive relationship between that emotional punch and the rational, functional aspects of the product. “It’s the balance between emotionality and rationality that gives you the engagement,” he says. “This is true for everything a designer does. It’s that balance that makes a brand succeed or fail.”
Third is the expressive desire that a consumer has to share their experience with the product. It’s about creating products that make consumers proud to be associated with the brand, Porcini says—in the case of Kola House, Porcini hopes that celebrities and influencers will want to throw parties there because they feel an affinity with the space, something that will translate into social media sharing and brand value.
That was the certainly the case with the limited edition Pepsi bottles that were released October 21, 2015, in conjunction with the day Marty McFly travels to the future in Back To The Future II. The bottles now sell for over $100 on eBay.
If design thinking is the toolkit that designers employ, prototyping might be its strongest tool. Porcini says that the huge benefits of prototyping were influential in PepsiCo deciding to invest in his vision for the brand. And while prototyping is a good tool for iterating and improving on products quickly, Porcini thinks one of its key advantages is that it can inspire confidence.
In Creative Confidence, the 2005 book by the co-founders of Ideo Tom and David Kelley, the two designers discuss how confidence was a big barrier to overcome for companies that want to do the right thing, especially if it’s risky. But confidence is vital to having the strength to be a business leader. “Confidence is so important, and prototyping and engaging people into the process, in and out, builds that emotional confidence,” Porcini says.