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PepsiCo design chief: ‘The future of design is all about human-centricity’

By Mauro Porcini, Chief Design Officer

November 23, 2022 | 7 min read

Mauro Porcini, PepsiCo’s chief design officer, discusses how brands can embrace design strategically and emphatically going into 2023.


The world, and the way we do business, is changing at a rapid pace. Globalization, digital media, and technology have shifted the traditional barriers to entry of production, distribution and communication, and they’re not as solid as they used to be. Large-scale distribution and massive media investments are no longer a requirement for success. Companies of all sizes can make direct contact with people via e-commerce and social media, ultimately enabling them to create deeper connections with their end users. People have more choices and can easily look for products that holistically meet their needs and desires.

This is why design has become vital. When used thoughtfully, design provides the best possible solutions to satisfy people’s needs and desires while guiding and inspiring businesses. With all companies on a level playing field, the brands that will succeed are focused on delivering the best products and services to human beings. If you don’t deliver them, somebody will find a way to do it on your behalf and take your place. As we look ahead into the new year, here are three tips for embedding design successfully to create extraordinary products that are meaningful to people.

Focus on human-centricity

First, your approach to business needs to be human-centered. To be clear, human-centricity is not defined by a process, a methodology, or a way of working. Those are just enablers. Human-centricity is, before anything else, a form of culture. It’s a culture of genuine love for people. It’s a culture that prioritizes human value over business value. In this culture, we know that financial growth today is the direct consequence of an authentic care for people. This is a culture made by “people in love with people.” Collectively, through our products, brands and services, we touch the lives of billions of human beings every day. As designers, innovators and entrepreneurs, we have a unique opportunity, but also an immense responsibility to design products for a better future and advance the well-being of an entire planet. To stay relevant, businesses will need designers to create extraordinary solutions that prioritize the needs and wants of society before all.

Instill design thinking across the entire organization

Design thinking is a powerful driver of human-centricity. Design thinking lives at the crossroad between empathy (discovering what is relevant to people), strategy (understanding how to make it relevant for your business model, processes, and culture), and prototyping (testing and learning as a way to innovate). To be effective, design thinking must be part of the organization’s culture or it will fail. As an example, oftentimes companies will host a one-off design thinking workshop and fail to revisit and engrain the practices into the culture. Or they hire a consultant who comes and goes without permanently implementing their suggested changes. The tools and methodologies for design thinking are presented to the organization, but the people wielding the tools aren’t inspired and retained. True design thinking requires the consistent nurturing of thinking people, or the human beings behind the designs. Their ability to analyze, synthesize, fail and learn are rooted in empathy. Designers are a community of ambassadors for this culture that will propel businesses towards human-centricity. But it needs to be more than just designers to be thinking this way. It’s a cross-functional effort that informs all other departments, including research and development, marketing, communications, human resources, and more. At PepsiCo we work collectively with all cross-functional teams to ensure design-thinking is not only deeply embedded within our 40+ brands but contributes holistically to the growth of the business.

To the designers of the world, understand that you need to position yourself as ambassadors and sell the design-thinking culture to your brands. And to the companies seeking a true design-thinking culture, hire these people.

The intersection of design and technology

Finally, designers and business leaders must embrace technology with open-mindedness and flexibility. More and more we are surrounded by new technologies, like data, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and 3D printing, just to name a few, that can accelerate our work and make it more efficient and effective. The leaders of the future 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. For example, the role of AI is growing and changing, allowing us to generate more interesting, yet often random design solutions. It will be an evolution to learn more about AI as it becomes more mainstream and understand its best uses to create bespoke solutions by combining the technology with human creativity. Data will give us a more precise picture of what humans want and what designers need in order to create more relevant and meaningful solutions. It will be up to us to understand how to use data in the most impactful way and blend it with our intuition and vision.

At PepsiCo, we’re harnessing technology in ways that are unexpected in the food and beverage industry, proving that design goes far beyond packaging. With our recently launched Gatorade Smart Gx Bottle, we’ve designed a personalized hydration tracker in bottle form with a first-of-its-kind light-up cap that reminds athletes to meet their daily recommended hydration goal. It works in combination with a full ecosystem of devices made of apps, pods and wearable technologies to wear on your skin and monitor your physiological needs. It is nutrition meets smart customization for a user-friendly solution. We also developed SodaStream Professional, a workplace hydration solution that allows users to customize their beverages based on their preferences and need for functional ingredients. With an insight-driven connected ecosystem, people can make healthier and more sustainable choices throughout their workday and achieve their personal hydration goals.

In the past few years, a variety of other companies have embraced design in unexpected and remarkable ways to change and evolve their industries. There’s Apple and Samsung in consumer electronics, Nike in athletic apparel, Target in mass retail, and many more.

Designers are fearless optimists who put people at the center of everything. Companies that embrace the power of a humanistic approach to design will have the opportunity to shape themselves as the iconic brands of this generation.

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