This year has been one like no other. Issues like climate change and misinformation have been at the forefront, forcing major brands to reckon with how they operate and take stock of their entire industries.
In a talk during Fast Company’s annual Innovation Festival moderated by Senior Writer Mark Wilson, two leaders from major brands discussed how their companies are tackling some of the world’s biggest problems. Giselle Guerrero, vice president of creative at Impossible Foods, which makes plant-based meat alternatives, said her team is actively trying to disrupt the meat industry, which is one of the world’s top polluters. Meanwhile, Dantley Davis, chief design officer at Twitter, said his company is working to combat the disinformation and vitriol the platform has become known for. While these brands might seem dissimilar, they both have something in common: the potential to impact our world for the better.
Guerrero says taking on the meat industry required a new approach to branding. Impossible’s visual identity uses pastel colors, vivid photography, and quirky patterns that read more like an optimistic DTC start up than the flame-charred Guy Fieri look of other beef companies. In fact, Impossible’s new cookbook doesn’t even have a burger on it. “It is a new category so it’s not looking at anything that’s been done in food before,” Guerrero says. “That’s why we don’t follow the norm . . . We look at art, we look at fashion, we just look at other things, because it’s a new way of thinking . . . it’s like retraining your brain [to make meat] colorful, fun, and kind.” Impossible’s secret sauce is to make meat familiar enough for burger lovers to put between buns, but distinct enough to remind consumers they’re making a better choice.
Meanwhile Davis is trying to solve a problem of Twitter’s own making: that it’s known as the “angry social network.” “We’ve all seen the memes around 2020. There’s a perception that on social media, people have a feeling of doom scrolling, where it’s just one outrage after the next . . . and that’s what gets amplified,” Davis says. “We’re thinking through how do we fundamentally change that . . . to enable the full range of human emotion on display.” That’s complicated by the fact that Twitter is designed so the most controversial takes often get the most engagement.
The company’s solution is a new design development process that it hopes will quell the platform’s penchant to reward rage. Davis says they now more thoroughly consider negative outcomes of new features, and actually attempt to weaponize these tools in the early concept stage with “anti-use” cases like misinformation and bullying. “It’s probably not lost on any designer that you will often think about your experience as being the equivalent of sunshine and puppies when you’re making it. All the happy things are part of what inspires us to create these experiences. But now we’re asking teams to think about what happens when people want to do bad things with this particular product.” Davis notes that the effort is helped by hiring designers with diverse backgrounds who bring different perspectives to the process. “I’m building the Avengers at Twitter, and everyone has their own superpower,” he says.
Both executives expect their brands to continue evolving. Guerrero expects that Impossible Foods will become even more familiar to consumers (it’s already in major chains like Target and Walmart, and is now available to order online). “It’s meat. It’s a different way of making meat. But it’s meat. We won’t even have this conversation about what to call it” in a few years, she said. Meanwhile, Davis hopes the positive changes they’re implementing on the design side will improve Twitter’s user experience. “All of our efforts now and beyond the election are focused on creating a more healthy Twitter.” Let’s hope both make for a more healthy planet, too.