Coca-Cola is one of the biggest and most recognizable brands in the world, responsible for everything from Diet Coke to Sprite and Minute Maid. However, according to the company’s former head of global design, David Butler, the brand actually lacked a consistent approach to design until 2004. His views, available in his newly published book, “Design to Grow: How Coca-Cola Learned to Combine Scale and Agility,” are a must-read for website design agencies, small business owners, and everyone in between.
Upon joining Coca-Cola in 2004, Butler says that he was immediately charged with helping the company develop a vision, strategy and approach to ensure that the business would be getting the most out of their design efforts. At that point, Coca-Cola was already one of the largest brands in the world, yet the company lacked a consistent brand, which created disconnects in the ways that people interacted with the company. Visible in its packaging, communications and retail, Butler writes that the company was therefore lacking the quality, consistency and leadership that the brand had ironically become known for. When compared to other growing brands like Nike and Apple, Coca-Cola seemed outdated.
This problem was clearly one created by the company’s sheer size: as a part of the fast-paced global beverage industry, Coca-Cola needed to harness its design to take steps to stay relevant, flexible and adaptable. Unfortunately, Butler writes, the company was designing at a massive, yet unconnected scale. This made it difficult to drive their growth strategy. As a result, Butler says he created a strategy that forced the company to rethink their daily actions. Called “Designing on Purpose,” the philosophy has one major principle: everyone is a designer.
The concept that everyone at a company is a designer requires every employee to think about how their decisions were related and could be used to help the overall business flourish. Butler says that this belief has five rules: firstly, connect everything you design to your brands; secondly, clearly define the brand’s visual identity; thirdly, design management tools and protocols to promote system-wide quality; fourthly, use design to connect both local and global licensing efforts, promotions, and other programs; and fifthly, link regional and corporate teams to create a more effective and efficient design network. These tactics, Butler says, allow companies as big as Coca-Cola to maintain a consistent brand image even as they continue to grow.
Butler’s book has drawn attention from advertising experts and businesses around the world, an unsurprising trend given that his book discusses one of the most prominent companies in the world and one which is often used as an example in branding strategies. Butler says he was inspired by Peter Senge’s book “The Fifth Discipline,” which discusses the relationship between systems and design, two factors that have a significant impact on larger companies. No longer working at Coca-Cola, Butler says his target audience is managers of large firms who are struggling with flexibility, adaptability and relevancy in a fast-paced business world.