Coca-Cola And Adidas Put Design At The Centre Of Customer Experiences.

Design is fundamental in how organisations differentiate themselves and how they deliver exceptional customer experiences. Great design translates into great content, and great content is essential for building the experiences that drive loyalty and grow revenues.

James Sommerville, the Huddersfield-born vice-president of global design at The Coca-Cola Company, claimed that the idea of being an experience business was not only relevant to Coke’s history, but was also where it was going tomorrow. At Adobe Summit EMEA 2017 (Adobe is’s parent company), his session entitled “Mass Intimacy” explored how Coca-Cola used design to deliver great customer experiences in both the digital and physical world.

The first thing he pointed out was that “although change is upon us every day of every week, the Coca-Cola business fundamentally hasn’t changed in its 131-year-old history,” however, “the challenge is to remain relevant to consumers in the age of experience.”

Sommerville felt that the brand had somewhat lost its way in the past when it came to design. His predecessor claimed that “we didn’t design the poster. We designed the system.” However, Sommerville’s mission at Coke over the last four years has been to “put design back at the centre of what they do,” and key to this has been reimaging its past. Part of this has been reconnecting the brand with its heritage and by working with new designers to bring fresh ideas to the brand.

To tie in with 100 years of the iconic Coke bottle, Coca-Cola approached 100 designers and asked them to reinvent 100 classic posters from the brand’s history. The aim of this campaign was not only to discover new talent, but also to “let go of the rules around the brand’s identity.”

Some of the posters were then developed from initial 2D imagery into 3D designs and then into experiential installations. The brand has provided “a stage for great designers and artists,” from virtual unknowns, to up-and-coming designers such as Spanish designer Ion Lucin, through to seminal designers such as Neville Brody and the Conran Design group.

Coca-Cola has always focused on delivering great experiences. Sommerville highlighted the success of the personalised Coke cans, where it swapped its famous logo with your name so you could share a Coke with the people who mattered the most to you. The aim of the campaign was to allow people to “share a personalised Coke with friends or loved ones and create special moments of happiness, and memories.” Ultimately, it was about creating a great experience that delighted customers.

Sommerville also shared examples of how Coca-Cola used its digital poster site on Times Square in New York to reflect real-time occurrences. The screen can reflect what is going on at the specific point in time, often allowing you to experience what the sign can see looking down on this iconic landmark.

Design Is About People, Not Technology

When trying to introduce new design technologies, the four key lessons are to respect the potential users; to leverage the strengths of the organisation; to keep a balance of change and stability; and to choose your KPIs wisely.

That’s the view of Simone Cesano, senior director of design operations at adidas who is based in the company’s headquarters in Herzogenaurach, Germany. He explored how to manage change in digitalisation and discussed how adidas had approached introducing 3D design tools to its 500 designers. The first thing he pointed out was that “this is not a story about technology, but about people.”

Adidas’s existing design process still began with pencil and paper, and one of the most popular ways of demonstrating what a new shoe would look like was covering an existing shoe in tape and drawing the new design on top. These designs were then translated into production drawings that could be used for manufacturing but which were hard to relate to the look of the finished shoe or garment.

The initial impetus for the change was threefold: first, to save money by reducing the amount of costly prototyping done; second, to improve the precision with which designs were expressed; and, third, to futureproof the company’s processes.

Cesano explained that the project had begun with the intention of making the company’s supply chain more efficient.

“We quickly realised that the people we had to change were the designers. That’s where we had to start, and everything else would flow from there.”

According to Cesano, the two realisations that were key to the project’s success were that there were enough early adopters among the 500 designers to form the kernel of uptake of the new tools, and that a hierarchical approach wouldn’t work.

“The people we hire as designers are innovators, and those people don’t listen to what their boss tells them to do,” Cesano said. “We realised that we had no power over them, and, instead, we had to treat them as partners.”

Early adopters evangelised the new tools at a conference organised for the designers by Cesano’s team, while sessions over breakfast helped engage more designers and showed which areas they found most interesting.

Cesano’s team also linked the use of the new tools to the company’s simultaneous push to re-engage with its history of craftsmanship.

“We brought people in from outside who were relevant to our work, for example, the costume designers from the Venice Opera. Digital tools were then introduced to help develop the ideas that emerged from these sessions.”

The final piece was measurement.

“When we started measuring, we picked up on Net Promoter Score, which is a KPI rooted in how adidas measures itself. Fortunately, we got good scores, and when we asked after a year whether the designers would be interested in carrying on with the programme, many of them said yes.”