Innovation is an act of love … 3M and PepsiCo chief design officer Mauro Porcini explores human-centred design … “the power of people in love with people”

December 1, 2022

One of the biggest problems in innovation, in every industry and category, is that many  designers, marketers, engineers, and scientists often invest vast financial, intellectual, and emotional resources, over months and months of research, processing, experimentation, and prototyping, in projects that respond perfectly to addressing the wrong question.

Mediocre, poorly thought-out innovation, without any humanity – or you could say, selfish innovation dictated only by the economic interests of the individual enterprise, at the expense of users and the society the enterprise serves – is beginning to struggle to keep up, and there is no turning back

The kind of innovation that wins out today is genuine and authentic, and it aims to create personal and social value first and financial and economic value afterward, as a consequence

The design-driven and human-centered approach to business has perhaps often been considered superfluous by many organisations until recently, as this approach wasn’t always necessary to win in the market.

Now we are familiar with design thinking, at least as a hyped approach to collective, creative action. What we need to do, is make sure that design thinking really is human-centred thinking – ie about people – and future-oriented – ie it drives progress.

And its not just about product design – think of every aspect of design – from brand identity to organisation structure, business models to consumer engagement.

Mauro Porcini is PepsiCo’s much-hyped chief design officer, who more significantly spent a decade with 3M before joining the drinks business. In his book The Human Side of Innovation he explores putting the human factor at the center of everything.

Check out PepsiCo’s Design+Innovation hub

He says “In every industry, new technologies have lowered the barrier to entry like never before. Either you design exceptional products, brands and experiences, or somebody will beat you to it … the key to real, world-changing innovation is to put people first.”

Putting people first requires what Porcini calls unicorns: people who are in love with people and who have a genuine fire in them to create meaningful solutions for actual human beings. In this book, he describes them, celebrates them, and details their superpowers so you can find them, hire them, grow them, and retain them. Some have qualities you might expect—the ability to dream and an attention to detail—but when was the last time you heard an executive ask prospective hires if they were kind or humble?

Here are 11 “Principles of Meaningful Design”:

  • Human: Useful, Emotional, and Semiotic
  • Innovative: New, Unique, Distinct, and Extraordinary
  • Aesthetically Sustainable: Beautiful, harmonious, pleasing to the senses, without any redundancy
  • Functionally Sustainable: Practical, efficient, convenient, and ergonomic
  • Emotionally Sustainable: Attractive and engaging
  • Intellectually Sustainable: Accessible, intuitive, and user-friendly.l
  • Socially Sustainable: Respectful, ethical, honest, and trustworthy
  • Environmentally Sustainable: Eco-friendly
  • Financially Sustainable: Valuable to the business and economically accessible to the user
  • Relative: Depends entirely on the needs and desires of the person
  • Poetic and Expressive: Permeated by a designer’s perspective and sensitivity

He starts his book like this:

“Innovation is an act of love—or at least it should be. Always. It is a gesture of empathy, respect, generosity, of one human being’s devotion to another. This is the innovation that I hope for.

This is the innovation that I want for my children and their children, for the society of today and of tomorrow. This is the very best innovation: meaningful, useful, beautiful, and sustainable innovation, the kind that continues to improve the status quo, now and for always.

This is the innovation that the new world we are living in requires. Not only because it is the right thing to do, ethically speaking—this should be the first and final word in the matter, though it often isn’t. But also because, at last, in our global, technological, and digital society, ethical goals are increasingly aligning with business goals for both enterprises and individuals. Innovation as an act of love is today (also) becoming good business!

It has not always been this way, of course. We are surrounded by thousands of products, brands, and services that represent the outcomes of a very different kind of logic. Yet today, matters are changing. There is no alternative. This is a real historical turning point, one that needs to be understood, celebrated, and accelerated …”


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