The World According To Mauro

by Bill McCool on 04/16/2019 | 6 Minute Read

Back in 2015, PepsiCo’s chief design officer, Mauro Porcini published a manifesto in HOW Magazine titled “How Designers Can Change the World.” It praises innovation and design thinking while also leveraging a brand’s equity through business, technology, and people. While that might feel like hyperbole to some, you have to understand just how deeply connected design is to how a brand lives in the world.

Sure, with dynamic design aside, Pepsi itself is an iconic, global brand, that’s instantly recognizable. Even if they hadn’t been on full display at this year’s Super Bowl LIII with ads featuring Cardi B and Steve Carrel, consumers around the world would continue to recognize and connect with the brand.  And PepsiCo isn’t just Pepsi, as they’re also home to many well-known, billion dollar brands like Quaker, Lays and Tropicana.

So, now that Porcini has been with PepsiCo since 2012, has anything changed in his approach to design or his earlier manifesto?

Well, no. Not at all.

And that’s a good thing. If anything, the manifesto has reinforced a lot of his ideas and has fueled PepsiCo’s process.

“Design is much more than packaging or product or digital,” Mauro says, “it's all of it. It's connected to a variety of other professional communities inside an organization from marketing and R&D, to consumers. It's all about finding the best possible solution for people's needs and wants, and advancing society at the end of the day.”

“It's really about always reminding yourself that we need to connect with other functions inside and outside the company, to feel that we've met the best possible solution,” he adds. “It's not a one-man show or one professional community's show, it's really about collaborating minds.”



Sustainability was something woven into the initial manifesto. As Mauro puts it, “designers have the opportunity—and with that the responsibility—to create experiences and solutions that are sustainable.”

Just look at the launches of Drinkfinity and Gatorade Gx. Both products offer consumers a customizable hydration system that encouraged the “refill model” in an effort to help reduce plastic waste.  

“We're doing our best, and we hope that society will continue to embrace it,” Mauro says. “So often we forget that consumer behavior has an important role in this. Today, if every consumer in the world decides to stop using plastic bottles, they could change the planet and challenge the way all companies approach their packaging.”.”

“Across our portfolio, we’re leading a conscious effort to change the game when it comes to sustainable packaging. Lately, we have focused on traditional packaging for our hydration brands,” he adds, “Right now, Aquafina and LifeWTR bottles are completely made of recycled PET and we continue to partner with a variety of different suppliers to investigate new alternatives to traditional plastic.”


The Challenge

That’s also part of the challenge of working on a massive global brand. Everyone wants to get on the path to greater sustainability, but this industry overall is just at the start of a transition period, and new ways of working often require upending an entire supply chain to implement some critical fixes. For instance, say you want to change the cap on one of your products so that it will use 50% less plastic? It’s a decision that reverberates throughout the business and could potentially challenge efficiency, functionality, ergonomics, or visual impact of the product, and in some cases, cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

And that’s not all— just think of the visibility these brands have. “The Pepsi brand in particular and many of the brands we have in the portfolio are under full visibility 24/7 from consumers, media, and influencers all the time,” Mauro says. “So anything we do has an impact on people. And our global community is diverse in everything -- from different walks of life, different points of view, different kinds of values and different problems that multiple communities are fighting. There's so much variety in thinking, and we need to be mindful of it all when thinking about how our brands can best be presented.”

“The challenge,” he adds, “is how you can have a unique point of view that makes the brand authentic, makes the brand real. How can you do that, but in the meantime not alienate the millions of people that consume your brand and your product every day? That's a huge challenge. You don't want to be average, pleasing everybody, while in reality not pleasing anybody.”


Design Thinking & Innovation

Innovation and Design Thinking, however, can lead the way and help minimize tricky business and design challenges, and in turn help large companies like PepsiCo create a better world. Design thinking has the power to drive innovation, strategy and incredible business growth.

“It's not just product or digital," he adds. "It's not just fashion or architecture. It's a way of thinking that can drive innovation.”

“For us, the primary goal is to build a better society,” Mauro says. “If designers are an important asset to build a different kind of future and a different kind of society, then you want to make sure that the design community is well-represented inside an organization to enable that kind of mission and vision. To truly innovate, designers need to have a seat at the table with the business itself, you can’t divorce the two. That’s what drives real business growth, and brands need to embrace that.”

And while there are some within the design community that frown upon design thinking, going down that road can easily lead to a negative outcome for a product or brand. “It's like a brush in the hand of a painter,” he says. “You cannot blame the process or the brush if the outcome is not ideal. You cannot blame the brush because your painting is bad. As well as you cannot blame design thinking because few companies have been using it and not getting great results. It would be like blaming the marketing discipline because your marketers didn’t deliver what you expected.”


Think Big

So what does Mauro look for when fostering the PepsiCo Design & Innovation team?

A passionate curiosity. A respect for both the design and business community. Cultural diversity as well as a diversity of thought. You must balance vision and pragmatism, and most importantly, walk the line between humility and confidence. We all know someone who dreams big, but in the end, fails to act upon those dreams whether it’s out of fear or laziness.

“The real innovators are the ones who are able to act on their dreams,” he says. “And by the way, they do it often, and they do it constantly. It's acting all the time. Because the reality is that it's difficult to realize a dream. So the more you act on multiple dreams you have, the more opportunities you have to realize at least some of them. So this ability of acting is often what makes the difference between successful people and less successful people.”

And what kind of advice does he have?

“Think big”, Porcini shared.

And, that’s precisely what designers have to do. The challenges we face as a society are innumerable, but global brands like PepsiCo have a unique opportunity to change the way we experience a given product, and ultimately, designers have a seat at the table that can change the course of history.

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