Fast Talk: Better by Design

It can be a catalyst, a transformative force. Five corporate leaders who “get” design talk about how it has influenced their companies’ strategies.

Delivering Delight

A.G. Lafley

Chairman, president, and chief executive
Procter & Gamble
Cincinnati, Ohio


I became a believer in design early in my career. Back in 1984, we introduced Liquid Tide, and one of the most critical pieces of the new product was the cap. It measures, pretreats, and has this little self-draining device inside the package so that it’s not messy. I was part of the team that designed the cap. I’m not even sure we had a design department. Probably someone in engineering had the insight. We thought it was a small thing. But women who used the product appreciated it. You don’t appreciate Tide’s cleaning ability in every laundry load. But you appreciate the design of the cap every time you use the laundry detergent.

When I became chief executive, I had the opportunity to lead my personal crusade for design. In the past, our innovation process was sequential, and it usually started either with a consumer insight or, more likely, a technology invention. We’d confirm the concept and product prototype, engineer the product, and then get design and marketing involved. Where we consciously involved design at the front end–such as with Crest Whitestrips, Olay Daily Facials, and our whole line of Swiffer quick-clean products–we generated more trial, more repurchase, and more sales. Why? We delivered delightful consumer experiences. Design can unlock the technological performance we build into a product and help the consumer see it, touch it. I’m not doing this because I’m a frustrated liberal arts major. Good design is serious business.

The A.G. Lafley Design Award is handed out at P&G each fall.


A Call for Fashion

Frank Nuovo

Chief designer and vice president
Los Angeles, California

I’m a design guy who “gets” business. But design innovation can’t happen without business leaders who get what I do. That takes time. I remember standing in front of a bunch of suits in Salo, Finland, in the early 1990s, saying that the cell phone is fashion technology and a personal accessory. They looked at me like, Where did they find this guy? The world still considered the mobile phone strictly a business tool.

My mission was to change this little black blob with mini buttons into a colorful object of desire. I started comparing the mobile phone to a Ferrari. I presented the first study of color and materials in association with the individual. I brought in paint chips. We looked at different social categories–successful idealist, for instance–to show why you’d create a different color composition for different people. Nobody at Nokia had ever seen such a thing. People sparked up and said, “Hey, that’s neat.”


Before long, we were the first to introduce user-changeable covers; the first to have elliptical-shaped, soft and friendly forms; the first with big screens. We introduced new categories to expand on the appeal of products for different people, such as the first luxury phone. This is about what people want today and leading them to what they will want tomorrow.

In the early 1990s, Nokia controlled about 12% of the global market for cell phones. Today, Nokia is the world leader in handsets, with 38% of the market.

From the Bottom Up

Jenny Ming

President, Old Navy
Gap Inc.
San Francisco, California


We became a $6.5 billion brand because of design. To compete, we knew 10 years ago with the original founding team that we had to have a design group, because that would be our competitive advantage over value players such as Kmart or Target. We create our lines and the whole experience around design.

Design ideas can come from anywhere. Seven years ago, I dropped off my daughter to pajamas day at school. She wore her dad’s pajamas–light-blue pinstripe–belted them, and wore a tank top. We pulled up to the school and, lo and behold, all of these little girls were wearing PJ bottoms. I drove away wondering, Why do we have PJ tops? They never wear them. At the same time, we couldn’t sell a lot of pajama sets. So we introduced just bottoms–and named the business that. We ended up dropping all the tops, and made tank tops in different colors, so you can decide how you want to mix and match them. The design team went crazy. With just a bottom, we could have more fun with prints. Plus, making just a bottom is a lot cheaper. We sold them for around $15, instead of selling a PJ set for $25, which was–and is–a high price for Old Navy. Then we began selling two bottoms for $25. We built a huge business off of that. If we were just another value player, where would we be today?

Jenny Ming has two drawers full of pajama bottoms that she cleans out regularly.


Made to Measure

Alex Lee

OXO International
New York, New York

If you can design a product that appeals to people’s brains and hearts, you can get them to pay a great premium. Most people already own a measuring cup, right? But in 2001, we launched our version. Like every OXO product, it began with identifying an everyday pet peeve. If you’ve ever used a liquid measuring cup, chances are you’ve had to bend down to look at the mark, to see if it’s too high or too low, and then keep bending to make several adjustments. You can’t even lift the cup, because then you’re not sure if the cup itself is level. You’re trying to hold it steady in midair. And you’ve probably come to accept this as a fact of life. Our solution came in the form of an angled inner ramp with markings that you can look down on while you pour liquid into the cup. You can read the increments and know when to stop.

Ultimately, what sells the product is the emotional side of design. We aim to create products that intrigue people, invite a question: There’s something different about this thing. What does it do? The critical moment is when they smile and say, “A-ha!” If done right, the process makes people feel clever. They think, “How come nobody ever thought of this before?” They get it, and somehow, they belong to this exclusive club of people who get it. That club could have 10 million members, but it doesn’t matter.


OXO has sold more than 2.5 million Good Grips Angled Measuring Cups–or $9 million worth–since the product’s launch.

Building Consensus

Henri Termeer

Chairman, president, and CEO
Genzyme Corp.
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Can the design of the workplace make a company more productive? We asked that question a few years ago when we began building a new headquarters. We’re not designers. We work in the science area. But the strategic value of architecture is not frightfully complex. It really has to do with access and ease of access. We looked at the building from the inside out. In our old space, everybody was behind closed doors. People weren’t really aware of one another. When people did walk around, they had to walk long distances, and it was actually rare to see anybody along the way because of the building’s layout. Last November, we moved into our new space. Now, if I have a half an hour, I take the stairs down all 12 stories and then up. It’s a large open atrium, so I can see all kinds of activity. When we first moved in, people would say, “Wow, we haven’t seen you for a long time.” So we’d have a bit of catch-up. Now the response is, “We see you all the time.” The conversation picks up from there. Beyond that, those unplanned, informal interactions translate into an absolute increase in decision making, in getting the right people to say, “Yes, let’s do it,” sooner. Ultimately, a company’s ability to compete relates to its ability to make decisions and gain confidence in them.


Genzyme’s headquarters was designed in the hopes of Receiving the highest rating under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standard.