Best Buy Unveils Rebranding That Was a Year in The Making

 

Best Buy is tapping its own 100,000 blue-shirted employees as the stars of its new marketing campaign, a rebranding effort designed to highlight the retailer’s personalized customer service. On Wednesday, the Minneapolis-based electronics chain is rolling out a new website and logo, and will air TV spots later this week.

Best Buy puts the tag outside in new logo.
Best Buy puts the tag outside in new logo. Credit: Best Buy

“It’s really about building more aggressively toward serving customers and helping change lives with technology,” says Whit Alexander, a three-year veteran of Best Buy who was promoted to chief marketing officer last year. “We needed a way to tell the story a little differently through how we interact with customers.” Alexander says the new work, which has a “rallying cry” of “Let’s talk about what’s possible,” positions Best Buy as an inspiring friend that can help consumers achieve their goals.

Work on the campaign started roughly a year ago. The “big thrust” of the new work was done internally, notes Alexander, adding that Best Buy still works with a number of agencies including Redscout, Grey and Wunderman on creative strategy. Grey recently created Best Buy’s holiday campaign. Starcom handles media duties for the retailer.

Best Buy debuts new out-of-home ads.
Best Buy debuts new out-of-home ads. Credit: Best Buy

A year after consolidating its marketing department and eliminating the role of chief creative officer, Best Buy is back to bulking up its in-house creative team. In November, the company hired Bruce Bildsten, who spent two decades at agency Fallon, as executive creative director. The brand is in the process of hiring dozens more for the creative team.

“We’re proud of the internal team we’re assembling here,” says Alexander.

In a 30-second TV spot “Talk the talk,” Best Buy employees counsel customers. Everything in the video is black and white, save the bright blue shirts of the staffers. A 60-second version will air digitally, while 15-second clips will also debut on TV. Academy Award winner Errol Morris directed the videos.

The retailer has also debuted a new logo, after some 30 years. The Best Buy name, still in black letters, is outside of the yellow price tag, which retains a diminished location in the bottom right corner.

Best Buy representatives declined to specify the budget of the new push. Last year, the retailer spent $139.3 million on measured media in the U.S., according to Kantar Media.

Despite the crushing omnipresence of Amazon, Best Buy has been holding its own with consumers, thanks to a customer-experience-focused strategy that positions stores as showrooms. CEO Hubert Joly is credited with the plan, which he unveiled six years ago in an effort to transform the company for the modern age.

In the fourth quarter, Best Buy posted revenue of $15.4 billion, a nine percent rise over the year-earlier period. Online comparable sales, which represent 20 percent of U.S. sales, were up 18 percent for the period. Net income was $364 million for the quarter. It reports first-quarter earnings later this month.

Getting to the top is hard, staying there is even harder.

Open Table Case Study by Sequitur

Everybody knows OpenTable. Even our moms. Which is cool, because they never seem to understand what we do. Anyway, when the folks on the restaurant side of the company reached out to us with a tasty, challenging problem to solve, we leapt at the chance. Basically, they were the first-mover in the market with the biggest customer base and the largest network of diners, but they weren’t sure how to convince new and existing customers to try their brand new, cloud-based product. While many OpenTable employees came from the restaurant industry, there wasn’t a deep cultural understanding of what their customers really valued. And having spent the past 18 years adding innumerable features, OpenTable had kind of lost sight of how big the idea of hospitality actually is in the industry. And that was causing them to miss a slew of great product and marketing opportunities. So, we brought the customer’s voice back inside the company, holding a series of workshops and office hours (more on that later), and producing some authentic, documentary-style videos to realign the team around what they always sensed was their true mission: helping restaurants create memorable moments for diners.

Tall order, up!

WHAT WE DID

  • Creative
  • Prototyping
  • Research
  • Strategy
  • Teaching
  • Video Production
  • Workshopping

OpenTable

The Whole Story

THE PROBLEM

Getting to the top is hard, staying there is even harder.

OpenTable is far and away the most dominant player in the online reservations space. They’d been first-to-market with a hardware and software solution that could replace the traditional reservations book. And after spending 18 years innovating incrementally, their offering on the restaurant side was starting to feel a bit tired, overpriced (even though their fee structure hadn’t gone up in nearly two decades), and not particularly in tune with the evolving needs of restaurateurs—even though the network of diners using OpenTable to book reservations had grown to 23+ million people a month. Having defined the category and built the business around a leased hardware solution (basically outdated terminals), the company was trying to pivot to a cloud-based solution redesigned from the ground up to deliver greater mobility, actionable insights, and a simpler UX. With a whole host of nimble competitors—from Resy and Reserve to Yelp—nipping at their heels and stealing away frustrated customers, it was time to pause, do some digging, and figure out to promise (and deliver) real value again.

THE RESEARCH

Help us get back in touch with what made us great to begin with–knowing our customers and serving their needs.

We kicked off our engagement by getting to know people within the company—across the entire organization, from Sales and Marketing to Product, Engineering, Support, and Brand. Not surprisingly, everyone knew there were some big issues that needed fixing. There was a clear sense internally that OpenTable was seen as the most complete, but also most expensive and (possibly) least innovative player in a market full of upstart rivals. Management copped to having built an untidy product line that had grown in an ad-hoc fashion over nearly two decades. And the Product team was antsy about having a large cohort up and running on a legacy product that was about to go bye-bye. Sales was looking for an edge to differentiate themselves from growing competition. And there was increasing pressure to scale the business globally. Change was always afoot, but also fleeting. And, even though no one saw their dominant position going away anytime soon, everyone seemed to be struggling to identify a compelling, credible, new promise that they could hang their hat on.

-OpenTable_Portfolio_08

Which pretty much bore out when we went out and talked to restaurateurs around the country. To a person, everyone agreed that OpenTable works. It feels expensive, but it delivers real value—mostly because having tens of millions of people walking around with your restaurant in their pocket is too tantalizing to resist. That’s how people are making reservations nowadays, right? But here’s the thing: no one we talked to really felt like OpenTable ‘got’ them. They didn’t feel like the folks at HQ understood the challenges of running a restaurant in today’s environment.

Complicating matters further was the fact that restaurants are maddeningly hard to segment. There are fast food, fast casual, fine casual, casual chains, fine groups, and every other combination and dining innovation that might give someone an edge. How could any one product appeal to such a wide range of needs?

THE INSIGHT

Would you like sparkling or still?

It didn’t dawn on us until we were about halfway through our discovery interviews—somewhere in Denver (which, BTW, is an insane foodie mecca all of a sudden)—that this gig wasn’t going to be like any other one we’d ever done. Normally, the people we interview out in the world start off seeming a bit put out by having to take time out of their busy schedules to talk to stupid old us. But here, things were different. Every time we sat down, the first question that came our way was: ‘Would you guys like some water? Sparkling or still?’ Seriously. Every single time. Which makes sense, in retrospect. These people are hardwired to serve. They were there to take care, to comfort, to look after the needs of others—to be hospitable.

There is definitely a “tribe” of restaurant people. Everyone knows everyone. People jump from resto to resto. And they just didn’t feel like OpenTable was in the tribe. More than anything else, restaurant folk live and breathe hospitality. For them, the sometimes soul-crushing, inevitably low-margin grind of running a restaurant was worthwhile solely because of those little moments of delight—those eye-poppingly beautiful, delicious experiences only they could create. And, to them, OpenTable just didn’t seem to be cut from the same cloth. They seemed like a big tech company that just happened to be in the hospitality industry. But they weren’t happy about it. They wanted OpenTable to treat them like they treat their customers. They wanted to be served, to be heard, to feel like OpenTable had their back. Funny thing, that’s exactly what OpenTable wanted, too. It’s why they were cooking up GuestCenter. It’s why they hired us. It’s why they were so hungry to get to know their customers better.

Bottom line, the restaurateurs we talked to didn’t feel like OpenTable saw the world with the same service-oriented eyes they did. The product was basically a good fit, but the attitude, over the years (especially at the top of the company) felt off. And in a world where relationships really matter, some serious counseling was in order. Because the growing rift was leading to all sorts of (negative) magical thinking. Long-time customers were starting to convince themselves that if they just turned off OpenTable, nothing bad would happen. People would keep coming. Things would be fine. Right?

Not so great a mindset to let fester, especially with competitors knocking at the door. Time to square up some tension and kickstart the sort of hospitality-driven innovation that OpenTable was great at, back in the day.

OpenTable_Portfolio_33

THE ANSWER

Practicing hospitality.

Like any chef, maitre-d’, general manager, or hostess will tell you, you can’t really fake this stuff. Running a restaurant is like putting on a show. It’s like theatre, like dance. You need to make the near impossible seem effortless. Every little moment needs to be considered, choreographed—even or especially when it’s scorchingly, blisteringly difficult to pull off. And when you’re part of that world, that mindset, everyone you deal with holds you to a higher standard. And that that’s where OpenTable had been falling down. Sure, they’d built this amazing crew of Restaurant Relations people who would go over and above for their customers. But that same work ethic, that same relentless focus on hospitality, wasn’t really coming through—even though it was actually pretty deeply ingrained in the field and at HQ. That’s where we focused our efforts during our first off-site workshops with folks from across the company.

OpenTable needed to operationalize their approach to hospitality. They needed to relearn how to treat their customers like their customers treat their diners. And we helped them begin to figure out what that would take from the Product, Engineering, Sales, and Marketing teams. What would it look like if the entire company hit the reset button and started thinking differently about how they go about their day-to-day?

“To entertain a guest is to be answerable for their happiness so long as they are beneath your roof.”

ANTHELME BRILLAT-SAVARIN

1825

Leaning into this notion of taking responsibility for the wellbeing of your guests, your customers, we worked with folks on the inside to develop a pithy, memorable set of five simple commandments—from ‘Know thy customer and anticipate their needs’ to ‘Empower thy customer and give them control’—that could help shape decision making across the entire organization. Over the course of two day-long workshops, we formalized a methodology for making good on big promises (about the power of the network to enhance hospitality, operations and marketing) in tangible, meaningful ways. Discussing, formulating, and agreeing upon these simple yet profound principles aligned this group of influential managers—giving them purpose, energy, and permission to start making meaningful change.

Then, we shifted gears to segmentation—something everyone within the company told us would never, ever be possible. For some reason, the prevailing notion in the halls of OpenTable was that every restaurant was a completely unique, wholly distinct snowflake. Their needs, their goals, their ways of looking at the world were all wildly different. Which, in some ways, of course, is true. But when we started parsing through the hardcore quant work that had started the quarter before we were hired, we realized that (regardless the size of the restaurant, the focus of the cuisine, the concept, the menu, or the particulars of the scene in which the restaurant operated) the basic, fundamental emotional drivers of the decision makers within the restaurant were easily categorized.

The more we looked at it, and the more we unpacked the data, the more we realized that you could build simple, clear emotional segmentation around five distinct ‘types’—all of whom have different needs that OpenTable was uniquely well-suited to meet. And, as we started socializing this new approach to understanding (and engaging with) customers, things suddenly started taking on a ton of momentum. Where previously, the company had taken a one-size-fits all approach to product and communications, now everything from feature prioritization, email marketing, and customer support comms could be custom-crafted based on a clear understanding of a specific customer and segment need. Seriously, it was like a bunch of bare filament Edison bulbs (of course) going off every time we walked out of a conference room after a meeting. And while there’s still work to be done, it has been super-gratifying to see our approach to segmentation start to take hold.

“Rudi and Ed have an insatiable curiosity, and the ability to home in on the most important details. The work we did together was both effective and fun. It led to concrete deliverables like customer segmentation, new websites, and product marketing videos. And it contributed to a renewed sense of purpose across the organization.”

ALISA WEINER

Vice President of Restaurant Marketing
OpenTable

THE WORK

Getting the story straight.

With insights in hand, segmentation sorted, and a high level messaging framework at the ready, we shifted gears to execution. The immediate problem became: how do we get 600 people on four continents on board and firing away with these new tools?

Of course, time was of the essence—as the battle for hearts and minds in the restaurant space had started heating up and GuestCenter was finally ready for prime time. To speed up the process, we embedded ourselves within the company for several months of our engagement—spending what our client ingeniously dubbed ‘Office Hours’ every Tuesday and Thursday from 12:00-5:00 at their San Francisco headquarters. During that time, we took what we learned from our insights and workshops and helped the rank and file understand it and execute on it. And, together, we and our host of collaborators set about crafting new ways to tell the OpenTable story in an audience-informed fashion. With a relatively pithy and pointed messaging framework in-hand, we hammered out everything from site messaging and direct response campaigns, to strategic frameworks for content marketing and industry events—all the while, serving as a sounding board for folks on the Product team as they explored new features and functionality targeted at solving the particular needs of each of our segments.

The most public manifestation of OpenTable’s new vision was their restaurant-facing websites (starting in the US, and also launched in the UK, Australia, Germany and Japan). They needed a simple and compelling way of signaling the real value of GuestCenter, the company’s all new, cloud-based product offering. Working closely with the Opentable marketing team, and the smart, hard-driving crew at Fantasy Digital, we evolved the value proposition, brand voice, imagery, and site architecture. The existing versions were a convoluted patchwork of buzzword-heavy, feature-centric, me-me-me marketing messaging–all hidden behind a intimidating lead-gen forms. Not the best user experience, to say the least. And not the best way to shine a bright light on the groundbreaking innovation already well underway within the company.

Lastly, to bring things around full circle (and show the wider world that OpenTable actually does understand the dish-shattering pace of real restaurants), we brought in our pals Danny NiederJesse Dana, and Donavan Sell to shoot a series of short-form documentaries about folks in hospitality biz using GuestCenter to delight their guests, streamline their operations, and reach more diners. They told true stories in an honest way that reflected OpenTable’s renewed commitment to delivering unique value to restaurateurs, while at the same time highlighting the benefits of exclusive new features only available on the cloud-based product offering.

 

THE ENDING

Just an amuse-bouche.

Having gone so deep with our pals at OpenTable (and having built up so much shared history with our compatriots and drinking buddies within the company), it was a bit tough to step away from this one. Sure, there were plenty of speed bumps along the way—so many moments of ‘Holy shit, how the hell are we going to pull this off?’ But we can’t say enough about how gutsy they were—staring down the challenge of transforming an 18-year-old incumbent into a nimble, attentive, user-led organization striving to build tools to help restaurateurs delight their diners and grow their businesses. Like any good story, this one is still very much a (very satisfying) work in progress.

Can’t wait to see what’s for dessert…

We picked this up from Sequitur’s website to give you a taste of what they will discuss at the VMA Design Conference of June 15, part of AIGA’s SF Design Week. Join us!

For Illustrators, the iPad Pro Is (Almost) an Everyday Computer


Can an iPad Pro replace your laptop? Is it a computer or a tablet? A production machine or a toy? Those questions have been dogging the iPad Pro since it was introduced in autumn 2015. When the latest iPad Pro debuted in 2017, with a more robust version of iOS that included file management and improved multitasking, choosing either a MacBook or MacBook Pro or iPad Pro becameeven more difficult for mobile users because iPad Pro looked like it could (almost) do everything a laptop could.

iPad pro laptop or computer

iPad Pro user with Apple Pencil, multitasking, photograph copyright © 2018 Apple Inc.

So what exactly can iPad Pro do? Maybe a better question is What can’t it do? Apple’s commercial, What’s a computer shows how versatile the device is and by the end of the video, you might ask yourself if the word computer is relevant anymore. Yes, iPad Pro is capable of a lot and is a powerful tablet or laptop (or whatever) and by all accounts, it works like a computer. But if you’re an illustrator and you really want to see what it can do, take a look at how other illustrators are using it with the Procreate app.

iPad pro laptop or computer

Clovers by Nikolai Lockertsen, screen capture via Procreate Latest News

Hello, iPad Pro

When the original iPad debuted in 2010, it appeared to be a big toy, a grab-and-go device for browsing the web, reading, and playing games, as well as email and messaging. It’s gone through various iterations including the erstwhile iPad Air, as well as today’s iPad and iPad Mini—both of which MacRumors suggests not buying because updates might be coming soon. But when iPad Pro debuted in 2015, it looked a lot less like a toy.

iPad pro laptop or computer

Drawing on iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil, photograph copyright © 2018 Apple Inc.

Today’s iPad Pro comes with either a 12.9-inch or 10.5-inch diagonal display and that smaller model is larger than the standard iPad’s 9.7-inch diagonal display. The iPad Pro renders colors better and has a faster chip to power the heavy-lifting that graphics, paint, and video apps require. Compared to other iPad models, the iPad Pro is, simply put, just better—in all ways—especially when you couple it with add-ons. Pair an iPad Pro with a Smart Keyboard and it’s a laptop. With an Apple Pencil you can draw and annotate, and digitally paint in apps.

iPad pro laptop or computer

iPad Pro, Apple Pencil, and Smart Keyboard, photograph copyright © 2018 Apple Inc.

One Device to (Almost) Run It All

iPad pro laptop or computer

Illustration by Emma Berger

Emma Berger, who is an artist at Laika and freelance illustrator, has been a loyal iPad Pro user, and was an early adopter in 2016. “I had been researching different types of mobile Cintiqs as well as one stationed to a desk. I was skeptical about the iPad Pro until I used the Procreate application, and then the choice was pretty clear.” Berger calls her work “relatively low maintenance” and in addition to the iPad Pro, she uses a MacBook for Photoshop since it offers some functions not available on the iPad Pro. She also uses a scanner. But for the most part, her work happens on the iPad Pro. “For colored drawings I’ll use the iPad almost 100%. The linework will be done by hand and scanned, the rest will be completed on an iPad.”

iPad pro laptop or computer

Emma Berger, initial drawing

iPad pro laptop or computer

Emma Berger, completed illustration in Procreate

Berger will import artwork into her iMac and back into the iPad because according to her, “there are certain things that an apple pencil can never replace.” This is especially true when it comes to inking by hand, which requires her to scan the work and use Photoshop to prep the file. Then it’s off to the iPad Pro for coloring and lighting. “If I were to only use the iPad Pro for everything (and sometimes I’m still able, but no all the time) I would loose some of what makes my illustration unique.”

iPad pro laptop or computer

iPad pro laptop or computer

iPad pro laptop or computer
Illustration sketching, coloring, development, by Emma Berger

Photoshop has been and continues to be the de facto art, photo, and illustration application. And then there’s Procreate, which Berger calls “the closest thing to Photoshop, no doubt.” For Berger and other illustrators, Procreate is a smart, cost-effective option compared to Photoshop—and it can do an awful lot.

iPad pro laptop or computer

Autumn Dance by Goro Fujita, screen capture via Procreate Latest News

According to Berger, “Photoshop is crazy expensive and there are a lot of people who don’t need all of it’s amenities. That being said, I don’t think Procreate has surpassed it, nor will it do so in the future, but it is the next best alternative. In general, I think working on an iPad is also the next best alternative to the 3,000 one would normally have to put into a full Photoshop Wacom work station.”

Unlike Berger, Trudi Castle, is still very loyal to Photoshop. “For me personally, Photoshop is so powerful, has so many options, and is completely what I’m used to.” Castle is a concept and game artist living in Vancouver, Canada working at Red Hook Games on Darkest Dungeon. She began using an iPad Pro at the end of 2016 and was impressed by how great it felt to draw on with an Apple Pencil. She uses the iPad Pro for “sketching and roughing ideas” but “nothing final, ever.” The drawings she’s done, some of which are on her Instagram, are more sketchy and fun, such as the drawing done in Procreate below.

iPad pro laptop or computer

Trudi Castle’s drawing done on an iPad Pro with Procreate

“I’m super comfy doing art at this level of development on there, and maybe over time I will start to do more rendered images. But for now, it’s more like my fun program for when I’m sitting on front of the TV and relaxing,” says Castle.

End-to-End Creation & Production

Other illustrators such as Castle use an iPad Pro more recreationally, whether it’s with Procreate or Clip Studio. For Berger, Procreate does what she needs and it works for her, and yet she’s quick to point out that that it might not work for everyone, especially if your work “requires more detail, file size, or a different interface.” Even for the work she’s done almost entirely on an iPad Pro, Berger has to move between Photoshop and Procreate, from MacBook to iPad. But if you’re a creative nomad and freelancer who’s out and about, and who needs to be mobile, the iPad Pro can work for end-to-end production, and be your dedicated device. Nicholas Kole has been using it for just that.

iPad pro laptop or computer

Ristorante Humberto, created in Procreate on the iPad Pro, a personal project by Nicholas Kole

Freelance character designer and illustrator Nicholas Kole—who’s designed for the likes of Disney—has used an iPad Pro as his onlydevice. He’s able to get what he needs accomplished without having to lug around a laptop. And for the most part, he doesn’t even need to use a desktop computer. Yes, Kole does have an iMac that he occasionally uses for invoicing, email, and type setting. But for the most part, it’s all iPad Pro all the time.

iPad pro laptop or computer

Jellybots, a personal comic and character design project by Nicholas Kole, now a Patreon project

Before committing to the iPad Pro, Kole looked at the Microsoft Surface, but he had his doubts because of his long-time loyalties. “I’m an Apple boy, and have been since childhood—so I’ll confess my bias there. iOS just makes sense to me, and the Windows equivalents always frustrate my sense of the flow of menus and apps.” The Surface also had some odd interface issues, according to Kole. “At the time I tried a Surface, the device ran full-featured desktop versions of the apps I wanted to use. The unchanged desktop UI of Photoshop felt cluttered and hard to navigate on the smaller screen, with gestures and the stylus feeling like afterthoughts.” Castle, who had a Surface Pro 2, found it to be “no way near as portable or light” as the iPad, and she found that the Surface “could get as hot as the sun!”

Kole does his art and illustration from end-to-end on an iPad Pro with Procreate, and calls himself a “huge Procreate user” who believes in the app wholeheartedly. “When I stepped into Procreate—which has a lot of powerful features hidden from immediate view, and accessible through simple gestures designed well for the touch screen—it was a big shift towards embracing what the iPad does best and leaving behind the idea that it had to function exactly like a laptop. I like the overt simplicity and the ways in which it functions, at first, more like a sketchbook than a laptop.”

iPad pro laptop or computer

A sample of settings, development art, by Nicholas Kole from the Wingfeather Saga book series for Shining Isle Production

iPad pro laptop or computer

Nia Igiby, one of the main characters of Wingfeather Saga, drawn by Nicholas Kole for the recently completed animated short

Well-Tooled

If you’re an illustrator who is thinking about getting an iPad Pro as a companion to your laptop or desktop, it can be an expensive companion if you max out storage, get an Apple Pencil & Smart Keyboard, as well as AppleCare+ and cellular connectivity. But iPad Pro is still a lot less expensive than a 512GB MacBook Pro, and iPad Pro might be the only device you need.

Plenty of illustrators and Apple loyalists have an iPad ProMacBook Pro, and an iMac (or iMac Pro). But if you want one device that’s portable, versatile, and powerful, the iPad Pro could be your one and only computer, that’s also a tablet, laptop, toy, sketchbook, and camera—and a whole lot more.

iPad Pro product photographs via Apple Newsroom Press Releases, copyright © 2018 Apple Inc.

Procreate 4 screen captures via Procreate Latest News

This article was originally published in How Design.


Join us on June 15 for the VMA Design Conference during AIGA’s SF Design Week for lots more resources and inspiration.

5 Steps to Finding Your Next Big Idea from Spanx’s Sara Blakely

There’s a myth amongst entrepreneurs of the “lightning strike” — the “aha” moment when an idea just comes to you. In reality, it’s rare to find a successful scale entrepreneur whose big idea landed on their lap. It’s more likely they were already on the hunt.

If you want to find your big business idea, you have to surround yourself with the human equivalent of a pack of bloodhounds. And when you find yourself on its trail, follow the scent relentlessly. And be ready to act when you think you’ve found it.

I wanted to talk to Spanx founder Sara Blakely about my theory:

I believe there’s only one way to find your big idea: Look for it. Look for it. Look for it. And then act.

Her story of spotting, pursuing, and realizing her big idea is as legendary as it is unlikely. She came up with the idea for Spanx at the age 26 by cutting the feet off a pair of pantyhose. With no background in fashion, fabrication, or business, she grew it to a billion-dollar company that reinvented underwear — without ever taking outside investment.

Her story is the perfect parable for any entrepreneur looking for their first — or their next — big idea. Here are 5 key steps from Blakely from our conversation on Masters of Scale. If you’re not yet a listener, subscribe on Apple podcasts or find all of the episodes here.

Step #1: Clearly Define Your Purpose

“At 26, I was selling fax machines door to door for a living. I literally had a moment where I pulled off the side of the road and was like, ‘I’m in the wrong movie. This is not my life. Call the director or the producer. I’m not supposed to be being escorted out of buildings and having business cards ripped up in my face all day.’

And so I went home that night and I wrote down in my journal ‘I want to invent a product that I can sell to millions of people that will make them feel good.’ This was something that I set intention for. I had really asked the universe to give me an idea that I could bring to the world.

The Bigger Picture

Different people have different ways of expressing how ideas came to them. Sara will tell you that she asked the universe, and the universe answered. I would interpret it a bit differently. I’d say Sara kept asking the same set of interesting questions, starting with “Is this my big idea?” And one day, inevitably, the answer was going to be “Yes.”

Step #2: Always Be On the Hunt for Your Big Idea

I wanted to wear my cream pants to a party, and I was a frustrated consumer that had no undergarment to wear under them that wouldn’t show. So I cut the feet out of my own control top pantyhose so I could throw them on under my pants and wear any kind of great strappy heel. And it worked beautifully, except for they rolled up my leg all night at the party.I came home that night and I was like ‘This should exist for women.’

I meet women all the time that have been cutting the feet out of their pantyhose for years trying to solve undergarment issues for themselves. And they’re always like, ‘Why didn’t I do Spanx?’ And I really just think it’s because I had been looking for this and was prepared in my mind to go for whatever idea presented itself.”

The Bigger Picture

First, notice the words Sara used: “This should exist.” Those three words flicker like a neon flashing light over a truly big idea. They’re your clue that you’ve stumbled on something with real potential.

Sara had spent years scanning the horizon for that neon sign, and she was prepared to go for whatever idea presented itself. All the other women who had the same thought simply went to their party and back to work the next morning, leaving the neon sign “This should exist” behind them in the night.

And this gets to the heart of a major misconception around entrepreneurship. There is a myth that big ideas drop out of the sky, land in your lap, and transform you into a billionaire the next day. This almost never happens.

Yes, Sara did have a key moment of inspiration, in her bedroom getting ready for a party, and that matters. But you have to look at what happened before that moment. Sara had already oriented herself squarely in the direction of a big idea; she’d been on the hunt for the last 10 years. Whatever kind of idea you’re staking out, you have to be intentional about looking for it.

Step #3: Put Yourself in Situations Where Inspiration Is Most Likely to Strike

“I’ve identified where my best thinking happens, and it’s in the car. I live really close to Spanx so I’ve created what my friends call my ‘fake commute.’ I get up an hour early before I’m supposed to go to Spanx and I drive around aimlessly in Atlanta with my commute so that I can have my thoughts come to me. And I thought of the name Spanx in the car.”

The Bigger Picture

Sara knows that she does her best thinking in the car. So she intentionally creates the time and space — first thing every day — to open herself up to new ideas. This may seem like an interesting bit of trivia. But it’s more important than it seems. As an entrepreneur, you have to put yourself in situations where YOUR great ideas are likely to strike.

Step #4: Once You Find Your Big Idea, Pursue It

“I went to Neiman and Saks and asked: ‘You know, what do women wear under these white pants?’ And the sales ladies would always say, ‘Well, we don’t really know!’ or they’d point me in the direction of the shapewear that did exist and it was really thick and dreadful and too much control or not what I was looking for. And then there was like regular underwear, which left a panty line that was visible so there was this big gap.

So I was doing two things: I was trying to determine if there was a marketplace beyond just my own thought and what I wanted. And at the same time, I was iterating the product. I tried to make the prototypes myself. I went to fabric stores and bought elastic and tried to paper clip it to the end, and then I tried to sew it. It was through the iteration of the prototype that I really started to love it and love what it could do for my wardrobe.

I like to tell people that what you don’t know can be your greatest asset if you let it. If you have the courage. You know, a lot of us second guess ourselves and think ‘Well, I didn’t go to school for this’ or ‘I’m not an expert’ so we don’t ask the questions or we don’t pursue it.”

The Bigger Picture

You can’t scale an idea that only lives in your head. You have to act on it — because that’s the only way to find out if it has legs.

And great entrepreneurs know: Not every idea is going to succeed. But every idea should be treated like it could. You can only know in retrospect which ideas go the distance. But even if your first idea doesn’t take flight, it may land you at the doorstep of your next big idea.

Spanx may have started as normal pantyhose with the feet cut off, but that isn’t where it ended. The classic Spanx, which women by the millions now rely on, are the length and shape of bicycle shorts. They look great under pants and dresses, never creating seams or lines.

You could compare them to old-fashioned corsets, except that Spanx are breathable, flexible, and invisible under clothes. They’re architectural marvels. The waist lines have an incredible non-sticky grip that keeps them in place. The legs don’t roll up or show through clothes. But none of this existed yet when Sara first had the idea. She saw a gap in the market, and started building toward it.

Step #5: Find Help in the Right Places

“I didn’t tell anybody my idea for one year. I didn’t want to tell friends and family because I didn’t want to invite ego into the process too soon, and so I kept it a secret from everybody in my life and didn’t seek validation. But I did share it with manufacturers, patent lawyers, or people who could help me move it along. And by doing that, I didn’t spend my first year explaining it and defending it. I just spent it pursuing it.

An idea is its most vulnerable in its infancy, and that’s also the moment in human nature we want to immediately turn to our right or left and tell our coworker or friend or boyfriend or boss, you know, ‘I have this idea.’ And out of love and concern we hear a lot of things that stop us right in our tracks.

‘Well, sweetie, if it’s such a good idea why doesn’t it already exist?’ And ‘Well, you know, even if this idea does take off, Sara, you’re going to spend your savings, and the big guys will knock you out of the water in six months.’”

The Bigger Picture

It’s so important — for entrepreneurs and anyone with an outlier idea — to remember that not everyone has the entrepreneurial mindset. Many people will tell you, “That’s crazy. That’s risky. You’ll never succeed. Lots of people have tried this and failed. What makes you different? Why don’t you just take a nice safe 9-to-5 job?”

So if you’re the kind of person who gets discouraged or bullied out of your idea, you might want to do what Sara did — and keep it to yourself.

But there’s also a real advantage to feedback. I do my best thinking when I’m around people who challenge me, who poke holes in my ideas, and who can tell me where the landmines are.

It’s not that Sara didn’t have any input. She just figured out where to get the most useful input, from people who knew the ins and outs of the business. And she shielded herself from the kind of criticism that might have crippled her.

Reid Hoffman

Reid Hoffman Influencer

Find the original publication of this article on LinkedIn.

Join us on June 15th at the VMA Design Conference, part of AIGA’s SF Design Week for more inspiration.

How the Old Testament can sometimes be as handy as the HBR when rallying teams around your vision of the promised land.

Parting the Waters

Little did I know, as an altar boy growing up in Colorado, that I would eventually find myself teaching corporations to love the Old Testament. But, as it happens, the Decalogue (aka The Ten Commandments) have worked their way into nearly every high-level strategic engagement we’ve had the pleasure of being part of lately. How? Well, it all started while we were working with a tech company in the communication and collaboration space (who shall remain nameless for the sake of our NDA). The brief: help us figure out how to do a better job of helping people understand each other.

See, we’d been workshopping our way toward a new vision for the brand — a new rallying cry that was meant to drive everything from hiring decisions to the product roadmap. But when we started hammering at that vision with a broader array of doers within the company, we found that after the head-nodding stopped, the hands went up. Everyone got the big idea, but no one could agree on how to act on it. Or rather, everyone had their own (domain-specific) idea of how they might be able to bring it to life.

What was missing was a clearer, more defined code of conduct that laddered up to the vision without adding undue complexity. Nobody wanted some elaborate decision tree to determine whether something was going to get them fired or promoted. They just wanted some simple rules of the road that everyone could get behind and act on. Basically, not The Book of Exodus per se. Something a little more…tweetable.


So, we broke up our workshop group into five teams of 6 and gave them fifteen minutes to talk amongst themselves. The aim: come up with your own ten commandments for operationalizing the vision. Of course, because literally no one in the room could actually remember all original ten, we had to scramble to dig them up on Wikipedia (does that mean we’re going to hell?). For the rest of the heathens out there, here they are:

I am the LORD thy God.
Thou shall have no other gods before Me.
Thou shall make no graven images or likenesses.
Thou shalt not take the LORD’s name in vain.
Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
Honor thy father and thy mother.
Thou shalt not kill.
Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Thou shalt not steal.
Thou shalt not bear false witness.
Thou shalt not covet.

Wait. That’s eleven, right? Interesting. And that first one isn’t really a commandment, is it? Plus, it sounds like someone might be overcompensating a bit with all the ALL CAPS. Also of note: not all the commandments are punative. Some are positive. Amidst all the thou shalt nots are a few thou shalls. As in: Honor thy father and mother and remember the Sabbath day. Both good. I’m still not totally sure about the ‘graven images or likenesses’ bit. I mean, no Michelangelo? Come on…

Anyway, after a quick stroll through Moses’ backstory, we got back to work. And it was fascinating to see how quickly people grokked it. Surprisingly, there were a ton of similarities bubbling up, table-to-table. Every single group kept it to ten. But when we when we gathered them all together, winnowed out the duplicates, and combined the super similar ones, we still netted out at around 15. Maybe this is where we should’ve brought out a certain clip from History of the World Part 1.

Again, in the interest of protecting our NDA, let’s just say they spanned everything from simplifying the user’s life, to creating more delightful experiences, to experimenting more. And, interestingly, none required all-caps. Good. And none were punitive. All were positive. But still there were way, way too many to keep in your head. And a lot of them were pretty high-level still. A bit too open for interpretation.

So, how to simplify? With those fifteen (and the reams and reams of notes from our earlier sessions that day), we went back to our studio. After killing a few Post-It Notes and going back-and-forth with our client lead, we ended up chiseling things down to ten. Then, five. Why five? Because, honestly, ten commandments is still way too many to hold onto (unless you’re a Rabbinical scholar). What were those super-pithy five?

People Before Technology.
Simplify, Simplify, Simplify. (with a strikethrough on the second two)
First Earn Trust.
Try, Fail, Repeat.
Get Better Together.

Combined with terse single-sentence explanations, experimental definitions (like ‘your silos should be invisible to me’) to clarify how customers would experience the commandment, and operational definitions (like ‘management is not your mama’) to codify how teams would act on it, people were off to the races — checking in periodically with management to make sure they were on the right track and, eventually, even going so far as to rewrite the way they test NPS to make sure they were nailing it for customers. Pretty soon, all the head nodding turned into actual, concerted doing.


So, what makes a good commandment? It should give an organization a clear benchmark — something to measure decisions against. Is this simplifying? Am I earning trust? Or am I just trying to get this feature out? It helps define a larger set of laws, not just a manager’s whim.

It should be applicable to the day-to-day — something that is meaningful to the rank-and-file in heat of the moment. Is this feature meeting a real human need? Or is it just technology for technology’s sake? Am I really risking failure if I greenlight this idea? Or am I playing it safe or phoning it it? It helps codify the vision in a personal, granular way.

And, lastly, it should rally people to a higher purpose — something that demonstrates a commitment to, well, goodess. Is this us being our better selves? Are we really in this for the right reasons? Or are we just reacting, doing whatever it takes to hit our numbers? It helps inspire action and fuel deep ownership of the outcome.

Which, truth be told, shouldn’t really feel like a miracle.

The Future of Birds in our National Parks

The birds you expect to see in your favorite National Park may be radically changing soon due to climate change. It’s been a joy and an honor to help the @audubonsociety with the visualizations in this new landmark study called “The Future of Birds in our National Parks,” which launched yesterday.

There are three main numbers we care about for the purposes of this study:

  1. How many bird species are in each park now?
  2. How many new bird species will potentially colonize this park when the climate changes?
  3. How many birds will potentially be driven out of the park when the climate changes?

Audubon’s study is exhaustive, covering every National Park and the hundreds of species of birds that live in them at various seasons. All in all it paints a portrait of a rapidly changing ecosystem in which National Parks serve as an increasingly critical sanctuary for birds seeking suitable places to live. GlacierDenaliGrand CanyonBadlandsEverglades, they’re all there.

A crucial element of all of this is the difference between summer and winter populations. On the whole, the Parks will lose more species in the summer than in the winter as things heat up. Just because the weather in these places will be suitable for bird populations doesn’t mean they’ll be able to get there safely, of course. But this is a good way for us to start to get a handle on the changes to our landscape & Parks that are coming, so we can start to figure out what to do about it.

The interfaces also allows for each park to be placed in context, so you can see where each location sits in relation to all the other National Parks in the study:

We’re delighted to be working with Audubon again. Our first project with them and our friends at Mule Design visualized bird range shifts over the whole US in“the broadest and most detailed study of its kind,” and it’s good to see the work continue in a big and public way.

The full report is online here.

Making a 32ft wide mural for SPUR

We keep finding ourselves here. Last time I published an article I spoke about how I went about creating a 3D cut map for Matson’s office in Oakland with Stamen. In this post I’ll outline what it took to make a 32′x10′ high res satellite image (that’s 13,824,000 pixels) for SPUR’s office in SOMA.

SPUR is a Planning and Urban Research Association based out of San Francisco with offices in Oakland and San Jose. They asked Stamen to create a satellite image of the Bay Area to highlight the breadth of their operation.

Setting the boundaries and aspect ratio

We knew two things early on. One, we wanted to show the entire Bay Area; from Marin to San Jose and San Francisco to Vallejo. And two, we wanted to fill the space the piece was going, a roughly 14’x40′ wall. If you’re familiar with the Bay you will know the area of interest runs vertically whereas our wall was a very wide, horizontal area. We decided to rotate the image counterclockwise to compensate for this.

pre rotation
post rotation

Sourcing the satellite imagery

Typically images of this size (like billboards) are viewed from a distance so the resolution of the image isn’t a priority. However, since our map was going to be displayed in a room where it could be seen both up close and from a distance we wanted to use the best, highest resolution imagery we could get our hands on. So we reached out to our friends at DigitalGlobe.

Satellite imagery is made up of many small images tilled together to create one large seamless image. DigitalGlobe sent us these tiles for the entire Bay Area. They looked like this:

The area of one tile. We had to stitch over 100 of these together.

The resolution was excellent. I actually had to reduce the size of the imagery. Here is the full-res area over Stamen in the Mission District.

That’s Stamen, on the south east corner in the middle.

Stitching the tiles

After we received all the tiles from DigitalGlobe it was time to stitch them together. Alan, Stamen’s lead cartographer, created this map for me. It shows the location and number of each tile in relation to the area we wanted to show. I used this as a guide for knowing where each tiles goes as well as what tiles to not use.

Tiles in relation to the area of interest

Preparing the files and installing the map

Finally, I needed to prep the files for the printer, Dynamite Digital. We decided to print the map on a adhesive vinyl that would be applied to a substrate attached to the wall via french cleats. To help make the process easier we divided the image into 8 equally sized images and applied them to 8 identical substrates.

David, the installer, applying the first section.

We were really thrilled with the piece. It’s hard to capture just how BIG the map is and the amount of endless detail you can find in the images. If you want to see the map in person head over to SPURS website and check out the many events they hold in the space.

Get ready to hear more about data visualization when Eric Rodenbeck of Stamen
gives us his perspective on June 15 at the VMA Design Conference as part of San Francisco Design Week. And yes, this article was hijacked from the Stamen website. Check it out!

Whiskey Series Takes Inspiration From Wild West

WHISKEYHEAD

Born in upstate New York but “like many freedom loving Americans before him,” Josh Jevons made the journey west. Now based in Denver CO, Jevons has used this as an inspiration for packaging for the Grand Teton Distillery that captures the spirit of the Wild West.

EXCLUSIVE MOCKUPS FOR BRANDING AND PACKAGING DESIGN

The series visualizes stories and myths of legendary pioneers, frontiersmen and adventurers of the wild American west. Says Jevons: “From Teddy Roosevelt’s dagger-clad bout with a puma to a bloodthirsty manhunt by Blackfoot tribesmen, these labels celebrate the western spirit of adventure, tenacity and grit.”

EXCLUSIVE MOCKUPS FOR BRANDING AND PACKAGING DESIGN

The labels feature custom diecuts and metallic ink, and feature custom illustrations and handcrafted type. Continues Jevons: “The aesthetic is intended to communicate the rugged nature of the stories as well as the place in which the whiskeys are made, the Teton mountains, while maintaining a modern feel.”

EXCLUSIVE MOCKUPS FOR BRANDING AND PACKAGING DESIGN

This article originally appeared in GDUSA.

Where Are We At With Recycling?

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By: Dr. Andrew H. Dent

A quiet revolution is now occurring in the world of recycling that has been presaged for some time now but became significant at the start of this year. If we are lucky, it might produce a sea-change in the way we think about how we package our products.

Normally, both in the US and EU, various types of lower quality packaging and other waste was sold to China as a resource for different secondary uses, like the production of recycled products. In recent years, China has been taking about half the world’s paper and plastic recyclables, but as of January of this year, National Sword has banned 24 different types of solid waste. At current rates, the shipment of these types of resources to China are down a whopping 97%.

So, what does this mean? Well, it meddles with many of the recycling statistics which assumed that shipping waste to China, but it also affects many recycling businesses, with container ships of waste material essentially stranded without a place to unload, and most likely, vastly reduced revenues. Europe has not been spared either, as approximately 12% of its waste had also been making the same trip to Chinese ports.

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But what initially seemed like a disaster for the recycling industry might just prove to be a real turning point. With the ongoing concerns throughout the world regarding the amount of waste being deposited into our oceans, it may be the push we need to get everyone moving in the right direction when it comes packaging.

On April 11, 2018, the Plastic Industry Association and 11 other partner associations delivered a request for the House to advance an infrastructure investment package to address the US need for better recycling efforts and innovation. High on the list is a request for improvements to be made in facilities so that they can sort waste more efficiently and selectively. Additionally, money is getting spent by many of the big players to improve materials, infrastructure, and education with companies such as Amazon, International Paper, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and others spending big to create a more circular economy when it comes to packaging.

European Union regulators declared a new policy agenda in late January of this year starting with the goal that all plastic packaging on the market will be recyclable or reusable by 2030. They’ve also declared war on single-use plastics such as straws, bottles that do not degrade, coffee cups, lids and stirrers, cutlery and takeaway containers as Europeans produce 25 million tons of plastic waste annually, but less than 30% of it is recycled.

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Interestingly enough, Chinese companies are starting recycling facilities in America, seeing the potential for a greater amount of specialized recycling within the continental US. Ecomelida Inc., the United States subsidiary of China-based Zhangzhou Sanlida Environmental Technology Corp., intends to locate its first facility handling marketable paper and plastic scrap separated from beverage cartons, aseptic packaging and paper mill pulp byproducts in South Carolina. The recycled plastics extracted, largely polyethylene (PE), will be used in foam, cast plastic parts, and other products.

The actual recycling itself is getting more efficient too with chemical recycling of plastics creating virgin sources by companies such as Perpetual in the US and the DEMETO consortium in the EU. Additionally, improved sorting of paper-based products such as gable tops (the Tropicana type poly-coated paper cartons) is progressing as well. Waste Management, Tropicana Products, Dean Foods and select carton manufacturers have launched a program in which residents can discard these containers in regular recycling bins at no additional charge. Started in Florida, this program has been expanded to communities across the US.

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This combined effort that springs from concerns about our oceans as well as the bottom line for recyclers will precipitate a new approach to the treatment of our packaging and waste in general, forcing governments, brands, designers and even consumers to bring about a real change in the way we value these materials.


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Dr. Andrew H. Dent

Dr. Andrew Dent is Executive Vice President of Research at Material ConneXion, and Chief Material Scientist at SANDOW. He plays a key role in the expansion of Material ConneXion’s technical knowledge base. His research directs the implementation of consulting projects and the selection of innovative, sustainable and advanced materials to Material ConneXion’s library, which currently houses over 8,000 material samples.

Dr. Dent received his Ph.D. in materials science from the University of Cambridge in England. Prior to joining Material ConneXion, Dr. Dent held a number of research positions both in industry and academia. At Rolls Royce PLC, Dr. Dent specialized in turbine blades for the present generation of jet engines. He has completed postdoctoral research at Cambridge University and at the Center for Thermal Spray Research, SUNY, Stony Brook, NY. Other research projects, during this period, included work for the US Navy, DARPA, NASA, and the British Ministry of Defense.

Since joining Material Connexion, Dr. Dent has helped hundreds of clients—from Whirlpool and Adidas to BMW and Procter & Gamble—develop or improve their products through the use of innovative materials. A leading expert on sustainable materials, his insight has played an important part in creating a new generation of more sustainable products.

He is a frequent speaker on sustainable and innovative material strategies, having given two TED talks at TEDx Grand Rapids and TEDNYC, and is the co-author of the Material Innovation book series. Dr. Dent has also contributed to numerous publications on the subject of material science, including Business Week, Fast Company and the Financial Times.

This article originally appeared in Dieline.

60-Second Super-Cool Fold of Another Week

Nearly 300 episodes strong, thousands of professionals around the globe look forward to my weekly dose of folded inspiration.

Get a sample of her inspirations here and also at the VMA Design Conference June 15 in San Francisco.