When you're in the media business, you worry about the cost — and the risk — of creating a new product from scratch each time. Movies, music, magazines: We all share the same challenge. In comparison, the idea of creating the same item — say a can of Coke — over and over can seem kind of simple. But if you think about it a little deeper, you quickly come to the opposite conclusion: If your product never changes, how do you keep it from getting boring? How do you hold onto your territory when new things are constantly emerging to tempt your customer away?
This is a challenge Pepsi attacked earlier this year with great fanfare — and mixed results. It revamped the Pepsi logo, embraced dramatically different packaging for Tropicana orange juice, and attempted to rebrand Gatorade as G. The goal: to use fresh design to make these consistent products sexier and more exciting. The jury is still out on the new Pepsi logo, but Tropicana's packaging has already reverted to a more familiar look, and Gatorade's market share has tumbled.
Coca-Cola has taken a less flashy approach, as senior writer Linda Tischler reports in this issue's cover story, "Pop Artist", about Coke's vice president of global design, David Butler. And so far, Butler's quiet efforts seem to have had better results. In Coke's most recent quarterly earnings call with Wall Street, CEO Muhtar Kent extolled several innovations that find their roots in Butler's work; Coke's market share in carbonated beverages has been climbing at Pepsi's expense.
Butler's success is in many ways a parable for today's economy. In last year's Masters of Design issue, we featured Dutch designer Marcel Wanders on the cover. Wanders (who recently launched a holiday collection for Target) is the epitome of flamboyance: He often wears a showy pearl necklace and posed for us atop a life-size horse from an opera set. Butler is creative in a different but arguably more powerful way. By applying design principles to a multibillion-dollar operation — using whiz-bang initiatives such as a Ferrari-inspired beverage dispenser — Butler has given once-stodgy Coke the weapons it needs to refresh itself. Even if he uses wonky phrases like "leveraging innovation to drive sales."
The other Masters of Design in this issue show a similar depth — from digital expert Lisa Strausfeld, who wants to transform raw government data into meaningful information; to architect David Adjaye, who is creating the Smithsonian's new National Museum of African-American History and Culture; to David Rockwell, who is rethinking everything from the playground to the airport terminal; to Italian maestro Alberto Alessi, who has developed what he calls "the Formula" to assess products.
Like our Masters, Fast Company's Linda Tischler is a creative blur. Over the years, she has built our design coverage — both in our annual Masters of Design issues (last year she profiled Wanders) and on our Web site, where she has recruited an all-star cast of guest bloggers to supplement the insights of our own writers.
If you haven't sampled the design channel at FastCompany.com, give it a look. It is an ever-changing but consistently excellent product, with plenty of fizz.
A version of this article appeared in the October 2009 issue of Fast Company magazine.