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How Target’s designers sought the simplest approach for the brand’s Made By Design products

Head of product design Stephanie Grotta knew that the brand was losing customers drawn to the minimalist aesthetic of Ikea and Muji.

How Target’s designers sought the simplest approach for the brand’s Made By Design products
[Photo: Ackerman+Gruber]

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The “adulting” millennial has champagne tastes and a beer budget. It’s a fact well known by Target’s head of product design, Stephanie Grotta. Data showed that as this cohort was moving into their first homes, Target was losing customers to the thoughtful, affordable minimalism of products from Ikea or Muji.

Grotta, a former landscape architect who joined Target right after the company’s 2010 acquisition of the gardening lifestyle company Smith & Hawken, was tasked to lead 15 product designers engineers in developing a new line of home goods called Made by Design (while over 100 other Target employees across departments including merchandising, marketing, and finance helped bring it to fruition). These 750-plus products, launched in June 2018, include wineglasses that can be stacked, sleek closet organizers with modular components, and pasta pots with the strainers built in.

As Grotta explains, these kinds of small, helpful details were key to Made by Design’s overall strategy of user-friendliness. But they weren’t enough. “When you anchor only around the utilitarian aspect of how the pot should function, it can look really rigid. And that’s what happened,” she says. “We started reviewing sketches, and everything looked clunky, flat, and hefty.”

Before launching, Target revisited the aesthetics of its Made by Design objects. “We landed on this idea: How can we express material quality in really simplistic ways so you want to have [these products] in your hand or around your body all the time?” says Grotta. Adding strategic curves to the pieces invited that touch and made them seem to hover off the counter.

Target declines to make sales figures public, but Grotta says that revenues since Made by Design’s launch have been so successful that she and her team are already working to expand the line into cleaning tools and luggage.

A version of this article appeared in the October 2019 issue of Fast Company magazine.

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach

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