Interviews

Business Strategy Behind Newell Rubbermaid’s New Design Center

Newell Rubbermaid’s new Design Center in Kalamazoo, Michigan, marks a monumental shift in the company’s design thinking and practices. This consolidation of design functions in a single location addresses how design in the 21st century has become a team activity that pulls in disciplines beyond design.

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In 2012, after Newell Rubbermaid adopted its Growth Game Plan strategy focused on four winning capabilities, including design and R&D, it brought in acclaimed designer Chuck Jones as its first Chief Design and Research & Development Officer to make the company more agile and responsive to consumers through design. Jones’ reputation preceded him, having successfully built global design and development teams that boosted sales and won awards for innovation at companies including Whirlpool and Xerox. Here, Jones talks about how Newell Rubbermaid is creating a brand-and-innovation-led company that is famous for design and product performance.

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Advertising

Pizza Cats – Lost in Translation or Just Lost; Editor’s Mea Culpa Revisions

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Editor’s excuse: Let me be frank; mistakes were made. In my defense I think that the misunderstanding proves my main point — i.e., this Pizza Hut ad campaign is very much aimed at consumers in Japan. However, according to my Japanese authority whose credentials are that she grew up in Tokyo and is Japanese, the concept is based on a well-known Japanese idiom, “I’m so busy there are not enough hours in a day. I’d even ask a cat to lend me a hand.” Neko no te mo karetai. Of course, cats are notorious for not doing your bidding. You know the American saying: “Dogs have owners; cats have staff.” Another translation error is that “Pizza Boss” Tencho was born on a riverbank, not under a bridge, and he wasn’t adopted by a poor loving family, but is now part of a poor but loving family. My authority also advised me that as a rule, advertising marketing messages in Japan are less direct than in the U.S., and the Pizza Cat-o commercials are very well conceived, very funny, and everyone in Japan gets it. Below is the post as I first wrote it:

“Aim global, market local” is probably this Japanese Pizza Hut campaign’s takeaway lesson to ad creatives everywhere. Those of us outside of Japan find that not only is the text in a foreign language, so is the humor. Cats dressed in Pizza Hut uniforms are cute, but the link to pizza is baffling. The cats in the commercials were not given people-like traits nor were their movements animated with motion graphics. They just did catlike things, and mostly seemed bored and oblivious to being in a pizza kitchen.

The text in Japanese (as translated by a Tokyo friend) tries to offer more of a story line. Each cat is given a brief biography. Tencho, for instance, is described as the pizza boss. He was born in Tokyo under a bridge, and adopted into a family that had no money, but lots of love. When he walked by a Pizza Hut, he decided he wanted to work there, and now his dream has come true. Tencho’s wife is named Ponzu, and together they have five kittens. The overall message of these ads is that when people are too busy to cook, pizza cats are there to help. The ads have no tie-in with any single Pizza Hut location.

The Japanese culture is known for loving “all things cat” – e.g., Hello Kitty, the mouthless cat toy with a pink bow on her head, and Maneki Neko, the waving Good Fortune ceramic cat that is displayed in virtually every retail establishment. A few years back Calico cat cafes sprouted up around Tokyo, offering pet-less patrons the pleasure of sipping tea while enjoying time with a feline companion. News accounts say that cat cafes have about 20 cats of all breeds on “staff” and due to high public demand, reservations are recommended. Given such interest, linking pizza and cats seems a natural, but the series of 11 Pizza Cat commercials are puzzling, even for an American cat lover. It’s a reminder that there is a cultural aspect to advertising that can’t be ignored; what works in one country may seem odd in another.

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Branding Guideline

A Brief Look at Brand Naming Briefs

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Naming is a discipline that strikes many as part voodoo, part marketing strategy, and totally mysterious. We suspect it was easier a century or so ago when founders named the brand after themselves — e.g., Ford (Henry Ford) and Wells Fargo (Henry Wells and William Fargo) – or simply described what they made – e.g., International Business Machines (IBM). Now, it is not so easy, and companies usually turn to professional naming firms to come up with effective memorable brand names that will resonate with consumers. On top of that, they have to make sure the name can be trademarked, pronounced easily, have positive connotations around the globe, and stand out on a retail shelf, on a website and on its own. Here are some tips from David Placek, founder and president of Lexicon Branding, the firm that developed the familiar names you see below.

 

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1. A Brief for the Development of a Name Is Different
Than a Brief for an Advertising Campaign.

(1) A naming brief makes sure that distinctiveness is a primary goal and that risk will be rewarded.
(2) A naming brief answers this fundamental question: How can the name help this new brand to become a winner?
(3) A naming brief defines a specific role for the name rather than the product itself, messaging or design.
(4) A naming brief tells the story of the brand so that the brand name becomes an essential part of the story — better yet, the title.

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Architecture

Krumbach Bus Stops for Tourists

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In some ways, these fanciful bus stop shelters in Krumbach, a tiny village in Austria’s Bregenzerwald (hunchbacked world) region, look like an architect’s idea of three-dimensional doodling, but they have managed to make the town a tourist attraction by boasting the world’s most unusual bus stops. Krumbach, which has a population of about 1,000 people spread across acres of scenic farmland, recently formed an association to promote itself as a cultural destination. To foster an international exchange of ideas, it unabashedly invited seven world-renowned architects from Japan, China, Norway, Spain, Belgium, Chile and Russia to each design one bus stop in the village.

“The aim of this project is to link design achievements of international architecture with the know-how and skills of local handcraft-based businesses in Bregenzerwald,” one organizer explained. “This is made possible by involving regional architects as a kind of mediator between foreign creative work and the abilities of our craftspeople.” Although the selected architects were used to being commissioned to design mega-million dollar buildings with doors and windows, they accepted the humble assignment. In lieu of money, the architects were offered a free holiday in Krumbach’s 11th century castle-turned-hotel. The bus shelters were unveiled to the public last May. Without doubt, they put Krumbach on the cultural map. Finding Krumbach’s newest art installations is easy; just hop a bus and get off at the stop.

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Professional Profiles

Profile: Delphine, @Issue Editor

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From time to time, @Issue will run brief profiles of people you may know in design communications, asking them what attracted them to the profession and how they view their work and process. We thought we’d start with Delphine, @Issue’s editor, and then Kit, @Issue’s design director, before broadening our scope to others in the business.

Name: Delphine Hirasuna
Profession: Writer/ Editor of @issue
Home Base: San Francisco, CA

When did you know that you wanted to pursue the profession you did?
I think I was around 6. I was tiny for my age and lousy at playground sports; I hated recess, but I loved to read. Nancy Drew, The Bobbsey Twins, Eddie’s Red Wagon, etc. But the stories felt formulaic and I decided I could write better. My bedroom had a vanity with a frilly yellow chiffon skirt around it, and I’d crawl inside and write my stories in that private space. Even then, I was a realist. Afterall, I was 6 years old, and lived on a little farm in the middle of nowhere, and didn’t know how to contact a publisher, much less have an adult one take my writing seriously. But I didn’t give up. In grammar school and high school, I was the editor of the school paper, and by college, I was determined to be a journalist.
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Script Logotypes

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Hand-drawn script logotypes convey a lot about the personality of a brand. The letter may look breezily dashed off, elegant, relaxed, energetic, confident, approachable, quirky or playful. The thicks and thins of the letterform, the extra embellishment, or lack thereof, hint at how the company wants to be perceived. Script letters feel more like personal signatures – individual and unique. This quiz is to see if you can name the brand that owns these logotypes. See answers after the jump.
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@Issue Relaunches Itself to Be More Like It Was

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Next week @Issue is relaunching itself; not to become something entirely new, but to return to what we saw as our editorial mission back when we started in 1994. For the first 15 years of our existence, @Issue: Journal of Business and Design was solely a print publication dedicated to demonstrating how good design is a major factor in establishing brand distinction, product desirability, customer loyalty, and ultimately business success. We featured in-depth case studies on brands that used design skillfully, and positioned ourselves as a bridge between business and design. At our peak, @Issue enjoyed a circulation nearing 100,000, with an avid following of designers, mar-com managers, corporate executives, printers and the like.

Then in 2008, the financial market collapsed, and with it our funding. To preserve the equity of our brand, we decided to publish online, which we have been doing ever since. This relaunch of @Issue online is intended to reintegrate some of the content that we had in print. We aren’t giving up the features we learned to love online, but we do plan to introduce stories that are more educational in tone to become a resource for creative inspiration and a platform for the best in design. Please stay tuned.

A Graphic Identity for Global Warming Believers

Those of us who are concerned about climate change finally have a slogan and graphic identity to rally around, thanks to design legend Milton Glaser.

The campaign’s slogan — “It’s Not Warming, It’s Dying” — doesn’t mince words about what’s ultimately at stake for the earth if we don’t get a grip on global warming. Done in conjunction with New York’s School of Visual Arts (SVA), where Glaser is acting chairman and a faculty member, the campaign aims to spark action on climate change through the distribution of lapel buttons featuring a graphic symbol, designed by Glaser. The logo represents the earth as seen from outer space, with the lush green disappearing into an ominous black. To reinforce the sense of a dying planet, the green swath is printed in ghostly glow-in-the-dark ink. Like his iconic “I (heart) NY” image, Glaser’s climate change logo is powerful in its directness and simplicity.

SVA is spearheading this social awareness campaign by offering Glaser’s dying planet logo as a lapel button ($5 for 5 buttons) so wearers can visibly express their concern for the planet. Up until now, the global warming deniers have been the most vocal in expressing their views, while those who believe that the climate is changing have mostly relied on scientific papers, panels of experts citing data, and Power Point-laden documentaries (a la Al Gore) to present their reasoned arguments. It’s time to be seen. If enough people around the world are seen wearing Glaser’s button, politicians and policymakers cannot easily dismiss these constituents as a minority of alarmists.

Adobe Illustrator Story Tells It Like It Was

When Adobe Illustrator was being released back in 1987, skeptics abounded and the designers who would most benefit from the vector graphic software were most leery that it would destroy the profession. Adobe co-founder John Warnock remembers, “Everybody said, ‘You’re going to ruin good design because now anybody can do it.’” But Warnock believed differently, “The cream rises to the top. The creativity is in the designer. The creativity is in the person who uses the tools.” This brief documentary by Terry Hemphill and produced and directed by Ami Capen looks at how Adobe Illustrator transformed the world of design, so much so that younger designers today can’t fathom what it was like to work with leaky Rapidograph pens, rubdown text and other labor-intensive tools. That’s history recounted by aging designers who want to describe the hardship they endured and how lucky today’s generation is to live in the age of digital graphics.

Aesthetic Bias Leads to Shameful Waste, Higher Prices, Poor Nutrition

Take my word for it, my farming credentials are impeccable. I’ve grown up around commercial fruit and vegetable farmers my entire life, and I know that the tasty, tree/vine-ripened, organically safe stuff rarely make it onto the supermarket shelf because retailers want their produce uniform in size, unblemished and picked firm and barely ripe so they won’t spoil before sold. As a result, mega-tons of fruits and vegetables are rejected for purely cosmetic reasons. Millions of people are suffering from malnutrition and billions of dollars of food are tossed out because they don’t rise to the aesthetic standards of clueless urbanites who believe that beauty trumps taste. What’s equally sad is that many city-dwellers don’t know how a real tree-ripened apricot, peach or cherry should taste. Shame!

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Lego Shelters the Imagination

It’s no surprise that a bus shelter constructed entirely from Lego bricks recently emerged in front of a toy store in the UK to celebrate London’s Year of the Bus. Anyone who has ever visited Legoland knows that these colorful interlocking plastic bricks can be built into anything, of any size by people (or maybe primates in general) of any age. Like an atom, the Lego is the basic unit of playful construction. This bus shelter was made from 100,000 Lego bricks by Duncan Titmarsh, the UK’s only certified Lego professional.

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Smart Cup or Empty Vessyl?

On Comedy Central’s Colbert Report last week, Stephen Colbert questioned the marketing strategy behind the new Vessyl Smart Cup produced by San Francisco-based startup Mark One. Designed by Yves Behar of fuseproject, the Vessyl is a digital cup with molecular analysis sensors that display the exact content and calorie count of the beverage within. In terms of attractive design and ingenious technology, the Vessyl is spot on. But to Colbert’s point: is there really a mass market need for it, especially at a cost of $199 per cup? Market research is a critical pillar of product development; without it, what you end up with is a geeky “parlor trick” that draws ooohs and aaahs, but few sales.

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“30 Weeks” To Teach Designers to Lead

Name one major company founded or headed by a designer? (Apple doesn’t count since Steve Jobs wasn’t actually trained as a designer.) If you can’t come up with one, you’re not alone. Designers create, they invent, they innovate, they make products and brands more successful, more visible, more desirable, but other than running their own design studios, they typically don’t lead businesses. “30 Weeks: A Founders Program for Designers” in New York City is determined to change that. Operated by Hyper Island, a Swedish educational company, and supported by Google in partnership with the SVA, Parsons, Pratt, and The Cooper Union, the experimental program wants to transform designers into founders through a 30-week course in start-up mentorship, discussions with industry leaders, group critiques, tools, hands-on help, and an environment where participants can focus on their own products. Enrollment for the 2014 program, which starts in September, is closed, but it is worth following nonetheless to see if designers can be trained to take the lead.