How David Butler has helped Coke maintain competitive advantage through design.
By Erin Weber
David Butler, Coke Cola’s vice president of global design, is a master of strategic design. Based on his story, I have synthesized four techniques he has used to maximize the value design brings to one of the largest brands in the world.
Butler attacks complex design challenges with system-based solutions. When he joined Coke five years ago, the company’s identity was a homespun quilt of diverse interpretations of visual elements like the classic Coke bottle and ribbon form. Butler applied his experience developing the visual system for the 1994 Atlanta Olympic Games to the development of a framework by which Coke’s essential visual elements can be applied in “familiar yet surprising” ways. Enter Coke’s new Design Machine, a web-based interface, which enables novice marketers around the world to customize Coke branded point of purchase materials while maintaining the integrity of the classic identity.
2.Speak the language of business.
Butler has made it a point to tailor his vocabulary to his audience. As he told Fast Company in a recent article, “At work, I don’t use the phrase ‘design thinking.’ Here, it’s about creating more value. How do we sell more of something? How do we improve the experience to make more money and create a sustainable planet?” In the same article, his colleague described Butler’s communication style in this way, “Butler’s message is very simple: Here’s what I’m going to do to help you sell more stuff.”
3.Articulate the value of design.
After six months at Coke, Butler wrote a document he called “Designing on Purpose” and sent it to all his contacts in the company. His manifesto clearly articulated how strategic design could help sell more Coke. Not only did he grab the attention of his colleagues, Butler also raised the perceived value of his industry by building a bridge between design and business. It wasn’t an accident that Butler became Coke’s first internal vice president of design.
4.Walk on both sides of the line.
I was fortunate enough to work with Clement Mok during the Designers Accord Global Summit on Design Education and Sustainability. He is one of Butler’s previous employers and continues to be his mentor. I jumped on the opportunity to ask Clement what he thought had prepared Butler for his success at Coke. Clement suggested that Butler’s previous experience on both the corporate and agency sides was essential to informing his design and communication strategies.
Not all of us have the level of influence Butler has earned or work for a global organization like Coke, yet these four strategies are applicable across varying levels of experience and design disciplines.