Mauro Porcini – SVP and Chief Design Officer at PepsiCo – on cultivating a human-centric creative culture

PepsiCo is celebrating 10 years of its Design + Innovation division with the launch of a new book: Good Design is For Everyone. We sat down with PepsiCo’s Mauro Porcini to discuss the book – and get his thoughts on creativity, design and brand collabs.

Mauro, it’s great to connect and congratulations on the launch of Good Design Is for Everyone. It’s a beautiful book celebrating 10 years of PepsiCo’s Design + Innovation division. How would you define the creative culture at PepsiCo Design?
Thank you so much! Good Design Is for Everyone is an accurate illustration of our incredible creative culture at PepsiCo Design. PepsiCo has embraced the philosophy that design has fundamental strategic value beyond packaging design and branding. We believe in approaching everything we do with human-centricity. So, our Design team is empowered to design and create solutions that address the emotional and functional needs of people all over the world – and across PepsiCo’s entire portfolio of brands. We view innovation as an act of love, and that really drives our creative culture.

Mauro Porcini, PepsiCo, Food & Drink

You mention in the book that the division’s success lies in its people – your ‘unicorns’.
The key to cultivating a human-centric culture lies in the people. It’s true, we look for unicorns to join our team at PepsiCo Design.

And how would you define a unicorn?
A unicorn combines vision, curiosity, and innovative thinking with respect, kindness, and optimism. They think big, they think above and beyond, and most importantly, they are constantly thinking of people. When you hire humans who are in love with humans, the human-centric culture will begin to grow.

“We view innovation as an act of love, and that really drives our creative culture.”

Are there any classic pitfalls that can stand in the way of company’s embracing human-centricity?
One pitfall I often see is taking a siloed approach to human-centricity. Perhaps one team at the company is working on an incredible project that will fulfil a need for people. But they are not speaking with another team, who have very valuable shopper insights that would help amplify and improve the project… A human-centric approach must be implemented cross-functionally, with all teams – Design, R&D, Marketing, Communications, etc – all working towards this goal.

Mauro Porcini, PepsiCo, Food & Drink

How does human centricity co-exist with the likes of AI and other technologies that are often seen as a threat to creativity and creative roles? Can the two approaches complement each other?
We are living in an exciting age of technological change. To succeed, designers and business leaders must embrace technology with open-mindedness and flexibility.

As you mentioned, new technologies like AI, data, virtual reality and 3D printing are driving unheard of levels of efficiency and cost savings. Businesses will need to learn to use these advancements, not just for the sake of using technology, but in purposeful ways that create meaningful human-centric solutions. And in order to do that, they’ll need to employ empathetic human beings who can identify how technology can create real value for people.

“A good collaboration is a delicate blending of art and commerce, niche sophistication and mass appeal.”

The book begins with a look at the evolving visual identity of Pepsi, right up to this year’s brand refresh. With an iconic brand like this, how do you revamp things without losing what makes it iconic?
When we decided to create a new visual identity for Pepsi several years ago, we asked ourselves: how do we take everything we love about Pepsi and its past, and create something that transcends? At 125 years old, Pepsi has a long, rich heritage. It was important for us to pay homage to this history, but also bring a contemporary edge that fits today’s physical and digital worlds.

So, we combined the brand equity from Pepsi’s past with modern elements, like a new electric blue, the colour black to represent Pepsi Zero Sugar and the new dynamic Pepsi pulse, to signal to the future.

Mauro Porcini, PepsiCo, Food & Drink

Nice – and that’s explored beautifully in the book. Good Design is For Everyone also provides a compelling visual history of your licensing collaborations, including partnerships with the likes of Fun China, PUMA and Octopus. What is the key driver behind doing these collaborations?
Collaborations can be a catalyst for authentic user-generated content. When the partnerships are a fit for both sides, they can provide positive brand exposure, social media and in-person conversations, and new revenue streams.

“The fuel of my creativity is my inner curiosity.”

We collaborate with companies and artists that match our brands’ attitudes and energies and that resonate authentically with our fans. In addition to the brands you named, we’ve also collaborated with fashion powerhouses like Nike and Dsquared2, cultural events like Shanghai Fashion Week, and athletic greats like Serena Williams.

Mauro Porcini, PepsiCo, Food & Drink

Sticking with collabs, the book details several examples of how PepsiCo has brought non-food brands into the category, with launches like Stranger Things Doritos and Money Heist Pepsi. Why do you think your brands provide an exciting canvas for IP to enter the food sector?
A good collaboration is a delicate blending of art and commerce, niche sophistication and mass appeal… Some of PepsiCo’s brands are world-famous – like Pepsi, Lay’s, Doritos and 7UP – and many are much-loved local and regional brands. When it comes to partnerships, our brands offer meaningful brand equity and cultural status. We like to tell compelling stories with our brands, and oftentimes collaborations with culturally relevant IP can create unique and meaningful brand experiences that connect to fans of both.

Mauro Porcini, PepsiCo, Food & Drink

There are also some examples of PepsiCo’s experiential brand activations over the decade – the Cheetos Mansion stands out! Do you see the experiential space being one full of potential for your brands moving forward?
Absolutely! Brands can no longer reach people solely through one-way channels like TV, radio and print. We need to reach people where they are. And people are using multiple platforms, both in-real-life and digitally.

The experiential space, when done well, is the ideal method to morph every brand touchpoint into something worth sharing and talking about. With the Cheetos Mansion, or something like the Nitro Pepsi Bar, we can create multi-layered, memorable experiences and tell holistic brand stories.

Mauro Porcini, PepsiCo, Food & Drink

As mentioned, there’s plenty of examples of PepsiCo Design’s work in the book, some that readers will have seen and others they may not have. Is there any launch or project that you feel is perhaps underrated that the book does a good job of highlighting?
We highlight a lot of bold, exciting projects in Good Design is for Everyone. But one project that I think pushes the boundaries of what it means to be a human-centred company is SodaStream Professional. This is our custom beverage fountain that lets people create their own water experience – allowing them to choose flavours, functional ingredients, temperature, carbonation and more. It encourages the adoption of reusable bottles and saves users’ personal hydration preferences.

SodaStream Professional is a critical tool for building out our ecosystem of personalised beverage options, while also helping to meet the needs of people who are looking to lead more intentional, sustainable lives.

Mauro Porcini, PepsiCo, Food & Drink

It’s a very impressive piece of kit! Now, this book celebrates the first decade – what are your hopes for the next 10 years of PepsiCo Design?
We’re just getting started! We will continue to evolve alongside PepsiCo’s iconic portfolio of brands. We will get bolder, more creative and more culturally relevant over the next decade and beyond. I’m excited to see all the incredible work our designers will dream up.

Great stuff. Before we wrap up, what best fuels your creativity? And what kills it?
The fuel of my creativity is my inner curiosity: that instinct that pushes me to travel and explore the world, to get lost in the physical pages of a book or in the digital realities of the web, to get together with friends and strangers, to enjoy diversity of thinking and behaving, to discover and be surprised by new culinary traditions, by new products, by new ideas…

What kills my creativity? The absence of all of the above. But that’s really not a problem, as it’s up to us to put ourselves out there, to be able to explore and discover. It’s something we fully control.

Absolutely. Mauro, a big thanks again; this has been fascinating. And for anyone interested in reading Good Design Is for Everyone can check that out here:

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