For the last few weeks, I’ve been wondering about color and branding. Color in advertising, color in packaging, color even in products (even edible ones, like our favorite snacks!); how much do colors affect our choices in buying, and do, actually, color selections have a deeper meaning for brands beyond aesthetics? While opening another pack of Doritos to accompany my Netflix Saturday night, I realized that no-one could be more related to the subject than a massively (talking billions of consumers here) known brand such as the one I hold in my hands! PepsiCo could help me answer my questions.
In a world that’s constantly changing, since its foundation back in 1965, PepsiCo has been a food, snack, and beverage all-time classic company. It’s been loved -wait, no, I believe the correct word here is “worshipped” by billions of people internationally.
The American-based multinational brand encompasses all aspects of the food and beverage market (manufacturing, distribution, marketing of its products). Over the years, it has been proven itself a timeless choice. No matter your location, your background, your profession, or your age, you must have held a PepsiCo product, and I truly believe that PepsiCo’s designs are among the most recognizable on the planet.
In 2012, a new member enters the PepsiCo family, who’s soon to become one of the most valuable assets of the company. Italian designer Mauro Porcini joins PepsiCo as its first Chief Design Officer. As he shares on his personal Instagram profile, “Dreams come true with vision+passion+optimism+resilience+curiosity+kindness,” and that’s exactly how I imagined the “faces” of PepsiCo to be.
Never missing a chance, I decided to contact Mauro for a short (which turned out to be a long very very interesting) interview. We discussed PepsiCo’s Good Designs, the brand’s success, and whether people’s approval is actually essential for it. He shared with me his podcast called “In Your Shoes” -and you should definitely look it up- and the fact that he’s writing a book – which I cannot wait to read. Listed as one of the “Most Creative People in Business 1000”, “Fortune 40 under 40”, and as “One of the 10 Italians that will change the world,” Mauro is talented, stylish, thriving in the world of design, and it’s time for you to meet him.
Good design is all about people. Good design is a meaningful experience. Good design is a functional product. Good design is relevant content. Good design is a beautiful object. Good design is in the boldness of the vision and in the nuances of its execution. Good design is sustainable.
Elizabeth Soufli: You’ve been in the field of design for many years now, having worked in well-known companies and contributed with your radical and out-of-the-box ideas in many successful projects. But, how did you start? When did you realize that you belong in this world?
Mauro Porcini: It all starts with a dream and not being afraid to dream big. My dream was to impact the world in a positive way somehow. Growing up as a kid, I wanted to leave an important legacy, creating something that will be valuable even when I’m not there anymore – in this world or at a specific company. My parents taught me two very important lessons that have been my anchor for all of these years. First, invest in knowledge and culture, be curious, read, and grow. You don’t stop learning at the end of your degree; you learn for the rest of your life. You are a student for life. Second, be a good person, have empathy, work to connect with others from different backgrounds and experiences, and be kind.
So, I had a dream, and I worked really hard on what I could offer and what I could create. Design is about imagining, designing, and developing meaningful solutions for people’s needs and wants, so it was the perfect avenue for my dream to deliver something meaningful to the world. And then I brought other people on that journey with me. We live in a society where it’s not a one-person show; it’s all about collaboration and working together. And that’s the beginning of my journey.
E.S: How much do the physical and virtual expressions of a brand affect the product’s success?
M.P: A brand is a story laid over a product, delivering a meaningful promise to people—a promise of quality, of style, of safety, of convenience. The physical and virtual expressions of a brand help people access that story, understanding it, appreciating it, and enjoying it. And they have the power to amplify the impact of that story too. Design has a fundamental role in imagining, crafting, and executing those expressions.
From product development to packaging, from in-store experiences to digital content, from licensing to out-of-home activations, designers paint people’s daily interactions with the brands that surround them. That interaction can be positive and relevant or negative and frustrating. In the first case, the product will be successful; the product will fail in the latter.
So, the answer to “How much do the physical and virtual expressions of a brand affect the product’s success?” is: “a lot!”
E.S: What do you consider to be the qualities of a “GOOD DESIGN”?
M.P: Good design is all about people. Good design is a meaningful experience. Good design is a functional product. Good design is relevant content. Good design is a beautiful object. Good design is in the boldness of the vision and in the nuances of its execution. Good design is sustainable, from an ecological standpoint (eco-friendly), from an aesthetic standpoint (beautiful and against visual pollution), from a functional standpoint (practical), from an intellectual standpoint (user friendly and accessible), from an emotional standpoint (relevant and engaging), from a social standpoint (diverse and respectful) and from a financial standpoint (people buy it).
There is no “absolute” good design; good design is relative to people’s specific needs and wants. What’s good for one person may be less good for another. Design can be fun, convenient, precious, and accessible, but good design is always an act of respect, empathy, and love. Design is all of this and more, blended in a perfect balance to serve the needs and the wants of people. We can and should dial up and down each attribute, each element, each variable, always aiming to reach the perfect balance to serve our user.
That’s why design for us at PepsiCo can take so many different shapes.
E.S: And since you’re mentioning it, let’s talk Good Design and PepsiCo…
M.P: It’s the colorful limited-edition Pepsi can or Lay’s bag celebrating the cultures of the world. It’s a smart and sustainable water dispenser with a floating screen that can touchless recognize you and your reusable bottle through an app or QR code, and serve you a personalized drink, while collecting data to improve itself, your experience, and our innovation pipeline: We call it SodaStream Professional.
It’s a collaboration between our pop culture food and beverage brands on one side and dozens of trending apparel, fashion, and tech brands on the other, from Dsquared2 to Puma, from Bang & Olufsen to Fila, all the way to Nike, Zara, H&M and Forever 21, as a catalyst for authentic user-generated content to build and support our brands in the modern, social media-driven world.
It’s an experience with customized drinks, in a customized spherical glass, in the most unexpected and creative environment, in the heart of the Disney resort in Shanghai: We call it Bublz.
It’s a new sustainable packaging, in the shape of a triangular canister, celebrating the iconic shape of Doritos.
It’s special edition Quaker Oats packaging to celebrate the birthday of the brand.
It’s a smart tech patch you apply to your skin to monitor your sweat and its composition to help you customize your perfect Gatorade formulation for athletic performance. And it’s an app and a smart bottle with a chip that can help you track your intake in relation to your needs.
And it’s so much more…
Design for us is all about celebrating the diverse moments of our everyday lives, through our iconic brands and through new products that are iconic-in-the-making, through special moments of fun and indulgence (because life is that too!), and through daily meaningful moments.
Through PepsiCo’s food and beverage portfolio, we want to celebrate life in its various forms, in its colorful manifestations, in its diverse shapes.
The designers of the world put people before business and technology. For the good designers of the world, “business revenue” is not a goal, it’s the result of an amazing product. For the good designers of the world, “technology” is not the goal of the innovation process, it’s just the enabler and the amplifier of a meaningful solution to a human issue. The good designers of the world understand and respect the tech and business communities, and they understand how to work in perfect synergy with them to create products, brands, experiences, and services that are desirable, viable, and feasible. To create solutions that add value to our lives and to the entire planet.
The good designers don’t care about “customer satisfaction” – that’s not enough. They want to love their users; they want to delight them, to bring smiles to their faces, to engage them, to surprise them, as they would do with their families and friends. Their designs are their gift of love to humanity. The good designers of the world are people in love with people.
E.S: From packaging events and advertising to digital media and retail activation, is there a hierarchy on the importance of a brand’s expressions?
M.P: It’s not a hierarchy but more of a 360º approach. From the moment a person encounters your product, to how they experience it digitally via social media or a website, to how it’s brought to life through an in-person event or licensing collaboration, these are all part of a brand’s expression, and you have to stay true to the essence of the brand. One way we do this is through notable licensing partnerships with fashion and apparel brands. These cultural collaborations reach beyond packaging and tap into the latest trends. For example:
- A Forever 21 x Cheetos capsule collection fused the iconic snack with fashion in playful pieces that people obsessed over.
- Pepsi partnered with DSQUARED2 on a limited-edition capsule collection combining DSQUARED2’s quintessential sport-street cool with the vibrant color palette and high-energy fun of our iconic Pepsi advertising from the 1980s and 90s.
- Pepsi partnered with PUMA on an exclusive collaboration that honored 50 years of the iconic PUMA Suede.
We leverage design to create meaningful and relevant brand experiences for our consumers every time they interact with our products, from the product itself through to marketing, merchandising, and how we bring our products to life through music, sports, and fashion.
E.S: Where do you look for inspiration?
M.P: 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 to be inspired. 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.
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.
I also recently launched a design podcast called “In Your Shoes,” where we explore the minds of people whose creativity, intellect, and vision are inspiring and shaping the future. This podcast is a way to inspire our organization across disciplines, and of course, anybody willing to listen, and we’re currently recording the second season. By representing the corporate design perspective in conversations with individual, phenomenal thinkers, we hope to share the potential of creative thinking as a driver to reshape companies, communities, societies, and more. I hope to inspire our listeners to get up, go out and change the world.
Innovation is all about looking at what everybody else looks at and seeing opportunities that nobody else saw before.
E.S: You entered PepsiCo in 2012 as Chief Design Officer. During your career in the company, you’ve introduced a new way of design thinking. What have been the challenges in this position?
M.P: PepsiCo was an early adopter of the philosophy that design has a fundamental strategic value extending beyond packaging design and branding, and since joining the company, myself and my team, with the support of strategic sponsors in the business organization, have truly shifted PepsiCo’s culture to be design-led, with people at the center of our efforts. PepsiCo now has 12 Design Hubs around the world in markets including NYC, London, Shanghai, Moscow, Il Cairo, Mexico City, and New Delhi, just to name a few, and the team is fully integrated within the broader Global Commercial organization.
Design thinking is the intersection of empathy, strategy, and prototyping. Empathy allows the company to understand people and how they’re navigating through the different phases of their lives, particularly amid this pandemic. This data helps determine a strategic path forward, and then we prototype solutions to meet consumer needs. It’s this framework and the daily dialogue with colleagues across the business that drive agility and innovation. It’s a way of working and thinking that we leverage to foster that cross-functional dialogue and connection to keep driving innovation to the next level.
The most powerful way to educate an organization’s culture is through great projects; you need people to experience the projects because the more people exposed to the design work, the more traction you have. You have to find “co-conspirators” within your organization and create proof points that will help educate the company on the power of design to drive brand-building. It takes time, but it’s worth the effort because of the value that design can bring to the table if we’re involved from the beginning of an innovation journey.
E.S: PepsiCo’s identity is now so colorful and playful, a feast for the eyes! What’s the importance of color in a new creation? Does the color selection of PepsiCo’s packaging, for example, have a deeper meaning than just aesthetics?
M.P: Color absolutely has deeper meaning beyond aesthetics, especially when you are delivering a new offering to the world.
Take the recent launch of PepsiCo’s Driftwell as an example. Driftwell is an enhanced water beverage that contains L-theanine and magnesium to promote relaxation. The visual language really emerged from the brand’s core purpose of inviting relaxation. The branding features an inky blue background and yellow accents, with an abstract moon dipping into a wave. Driftwell looks like a Pepsi product in some ways (a central circle, rounded edges) but has a polished, modern asymmetry not usually found in traditional soft drink design. With this functional innovation, the color of the can was incredibly important to get right. We wanted Driftwell to communicate relaxation, so the design is pared back to the essentials to allow the mind to be still. We focused on the details, carefully crafted gradients to entice the eye, harmonious type styles to communicate messaging, and rich product visuals to draw in our audience. At the end of the day, people unwind in different ways, but with Driftwell, we wanted to create a visual world that welcomes everyone to wind down with us.
With all of our brand work, color is a key component of the visual language and what we are trying to communicate to people with that product. It’s engrained with the brand’s core purpose.
E.S: What’s your favorite color?
M.P: I don’t have one specific favorite color. I have multiple favorite colors that change based on the context. For example, I love the color black for my outfits; I love pink as an unexpected touch of craziness to add when you least expect it; I love different nuances of blue – the ones of the sky, the ones of the sea – because they feel like freedom.
E.S: After all, is people’s approval what makes a design successful?
M.P: As a designer, I have had the opportunity to touch the lives of many people through different professional realms, various industries, products, and so on. By working in an organization like PepsiCo that reaches billions of people every day, I am able to connect with these billions indirectly.
Success for me is about creating something that becomes a meaningful solution for these people’s desires and needs. So, yes, ultimately, success is directly connected to the approval of the people you design for. Because when you get that approval, when they buy your product, it means that you were able to imagine and create a solution that was meaningful to them, that was relevant, that added some form of value to their lives.
To do so, you need designers with great empathy, sensitivity, curiosity, optimism, resilience, and agility: those are the key drivers of successful innovation and successful business.
E.S: What are you working on at the moment?
M.P: Right now, I am working on dozens of projects that are trying to define how people will eat and drink in the future, how technology can better enable that experience, how new tools available today can customize that interaction. I’m also 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 and business community, and I hope that they can be inspiring for others too. I am driven by generating value for the world, and I 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.
E.S: In the post-COVID era, what’s the designers’ role? We all need to adapt to new standards (we already have, actually), but how will the future design be affected by such changes?
M.P: The pandemic has made the need for human-centered innovation more urgent than ever, and that’s been the focus for our Design organization.
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. Our design team was involved from start to finish, from ideation of the opportunity all the way to the creation of the platform’s intuitive user experience, as well as the physical look and feel. The machine can recognize your customized formula through a QR code on your bottle, which makes it ideal for a contactless experience, which is a function we accelerated the deployment of due to the pandemic. Even in the near future, when the vaccine is fully rolled out, this new contactless innovation will still be there to add value because it is faster, more convenient, and more user-friendly.
As designers, we are constantly thinking about how design can help and will be focused on this even more in a post-COVID era: by transforming a problem into an opportunity, centered on people’s needs and desires and creating solutions that are beautiful, relevant, meaningful and sustainable.
E.S: The newspaper “Il Giornale” has named you as “One of the 10 Italians that will change the world.” Is this your goal?
M.P: While it’s an honor to receive this recognition, my goal is to leave a lasting impact on society. The most important lesson I’ve learned came from Claudio Cecchetto, an influential Italian in the entertainment world and my partner at my agency Wisemad about 20 years ago. Through his behaviors and actions, he taught me that innovation is a mindset before being a process or a way of working. When facing any kind of task, any assignment, any project, Claudio would always ask himself the same question: “How can I do something that nobody has done before?” And when I say “nobody,” that includes himself. He was obsessed with innovating, even when it came to his own creations. Now, every time there is a project, from a simple graphic design task to the most disruptive product portfolio re-invention, I always ask myself: “How can I do something that nobody has done?” Always. This mindset is always in my heart, and I hope that we are ultimately creating a better world through the innovations my team is delivering.
E.S: I would like to close our interview with this question… What’s Mauro’s Porcini typical day like?
M.P: There is no “typical” day. Every day has its share of excitement and challenges. The challenges are to continue innovating, doing so more quickly than ever before, and continuing to spread design-led thinking throughout the PepsiCo organization.
When you are trying to unlock breakthrough innovation, by definition, it’s complicated. You are out of the comfort zone and the regular ways of doing things. You need to talk with consumers and validate what you’re doing. To change the game and innovate is to embrace risk. So, as a team we are constantly figuring out how to balance and develop the idea, the product, the solution at a reasonable cost without impacting the integrity of the concept itself. Believe me, it is more complicated than it sounds. You can find many roadblocks every day, but that is part of the game. The nature of this business is maintaining the confidence to succeed. And then there is the exciting part, the experience of progress, to look back at where we were before and where we are now, and where we are headed. And that gives you an immeasurable sense of direction, energy, optimism and inspires you to do more.
Equally important is the ability to step back. If the focus is on day-to-day work and you get too immersed in the details, you may lose the ability to look at the big picture. It takes only a second to lose yourself, lose inspiration, lose energy and motivation, and then it is a disaster. Thinking big is always the most important thing to do because it drives you to change the game. It also gives you that energy and that optimism that is necessary to face the challenges each day throws at you.