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Mauro Porcini: ‘We have to stay very close to people’s needs, local cultures in design process’

At Pune’s Design festival, Porcini spoke to The Indian Express about his experience with India and the challenges faced by companies in a post COVID era

Mauro Porcini, the first-ever chief design officer of Pepsico is a strong advocate of interchangeability of the concepts of design and innovation. At Pune’s Design festival, Porcini spoke to The Indian Express about his experience with India and the challenges faced by companies in a post COVID era

In this age and era of COVID what are the challenges before a company like PepsiCo when it comes to design of products?

PepsiCo is a global food and beverage company operating in more than 200 countries and territories around the world, with a portfolio of iconic brands including Pepsi-Cola, Quaker Oats, Tropicana, Lay’s and Gatorade. We employ more than 260,000 associates, so the COVID-19 pandemic has of course created many challenges for our brands and for our employees. It has disrupted all of our lives in many ways, and I’m very proud that PepsiCo has worked tirelessly to protect the safety of our products, care for our associates and their families, and support our communities around the world.

The pandemic has also made the need for accelerated innovation more urgent, and that’s been the focus for our Design organization. The reality is that design and innovation are one and the same. Innovation is all about people. Innovation is about imagining, designing and developing meaningful solutions for people’s needs and wants. As designers, we are trained in three dimensions: human science (desirability), business (viability) and technology (feasibility). In the projects my team works on at PepsiCo, we connect these three dimensions to create products, brands, experiences and services that are relevant to the communities we design for. We call this approach “design”; the world often calls it “innovation.”

One recent project that I particularly love is SodaStream Professional, which is an eco-friendly hydration platform that offers a unique way for people to personalize hydration and reduce single-use packaging at the same time. My team was involved from start to finish, helping create the platform’s intuitive user experience, as well as the physical look and feel. The machine can recognize your customized formula through a QR code on your bottle, which makes it ideal for a contactless experience, which is a function we accelerated the deployment of due to the pandemic. Even in the near future when the vaccine is fully rolled-out, this new contactless innovation will still be there to add value because it is faster, more convenient and more user-friendly.

As designers, we are constantly thinking about how design can help: by transforming a problem into an opportunity, focusing on people’s needs and desires, and creating solutions that are beautiful, relevant, meaningful and sustainable.

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What are the main changes you have brought about in the product placement and design for the company in India since you took over?

We’ve implemented many impactful design initiatives in India. The overall portfolio look for many of our brands, including complete visual identities and packaging design, has been elevated to align and unify with global brand identities around the world. At the same time, we’ve delivered more nuanced and personalized work for regional needs and aspirations. We are building brand engagement by leveraging design-led thinking and using LTOs as a strategy to help drive consumer centricity. We’re introducing limited-edition packaging for some of our most-loved brands to celebrate and drive purpose-focused messaging and campaigns, like the Lay’s Heartwork campaign saluting the heroes of the pandemic. All of this work wouldn’t be possible without strong cross-functional collaboration with great “co-conspirators” across the business like Vishal Kaul, VP of Beverages, PepsiCo India, and tapping into local Indian design talent like our regional creative leader Tanu Sinha.

How does design placement and concepts change for an FMCG company in an aspirational country like India?

We have to stay very close to people’s needs, local cultures and what’s happening in the world around us at every point in the design process. We have to be agile and innovative in terms of our approach and response, and how and when we communicate to our consumers, particularly in challenging times like these. In a post-Covid era, new food and beverage trends are emerging, like an increased focus on value that our teams need to keep top-of-mind to ensure we’re in tune with people’s shifting wants and needs. We’re also looking to evolve the digital medium as a way to communicate to the aspiring Indian consumer, and we think there is a great opportunity there for our brands and design to use digital tools to add new layers of meaning to our products, businesses and people. A product or a brand or an experience has to have meaning in a person’s life in order to have staying power. In this world, either you create something extraordinary or somebody else will. I call this “the age of excellence.” The only way to succeed in this new, ever-evolving landscape is to deeply understand people’s needs and craft meaningful solutions.

We also always keep our retail spaces (physical & digital) top-of-mind and think carefully about how our products are designed to work within those environments to maximise visibility and accessibility for people and for our retail partners.

How would you rate the work of Indian designers? What is your experience of Indian design schools? Do you think companies are investing enough in design aspect?

My keywords for any organization are curiosity, diversity, dialogue and respect. Innovation is all about looking at what everybody else looks at and seeing opportunities that nobody else saw before. My strategy to accomplish that is pretty simple. You need the curiosity of a child. In a culturally rich and diverse country like India, designers need to bring a diverse palette, cultural sensitivity and awareness to the work, which makes their role as designers challenging, but also very enriching and inspiring.

My experience is that Indian Design schools are constantly pushing the boundaries to train their students and provide world-class education, so their students are ready to face the challenges of the modern design industry. They also have great initiatives like student exchange programs, trips to local design festivals and industry collaborations, which are important ways to provide exposure and an advantage to young designers.

Companies in India are beginning to invest in design and recognize the power of a design-led organization. It started with the technology and automobile industries and it’s continuing to gain momentum in other categories as well – and we hope PepsiCo is a great showcase for the rest of the country in what design can do. The most powerful way to educate an organization’s culture on design is through great projects; you need people to experience the projects because the more people that get exposed to the design work, the more traction you have. You have to find “co-conspirators” within your organization and create proof points that will help educate the company on the power of design to drive brand-building. It takes time, but it’s worth the effort because of the value that design can bring to the table if we’re involved from the beginning of an innovation journey.

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