Creativity is something that many look beyond, but creativity is one of the greatest qualities we can be lucky enough to have, but many never allow their true creativity to be expressed.

Our ability to express our deepest feelings is at the core of the importance of creativity. As humans we have a very strong need to express ourselves and we're happiest when other people understand what we are trying to get across to them.

We can all benefit from a boost to our creative juices. Those who are truly creative don’t copy what others do; instead, they may use innovative ideas from others as a springboard to come up with a unique product for themselves. They tend to distance themselves from the competition rather than compete with them. If they see another company or person copying what they do, they create something even better. Put simply, they are able to leverage their creativity and innovative capabilities to attain success.

Would you like the ability to stay creative longer?  You are in luck. Check out this cool infographic, “29 Ways to Stay Creative” by Creattica by Envato.

As the world's most respected conference in the brand strategy and design community, each year FUSE explores design as a strategic lever and invaluable asset in building better brands and more meaningful relationships with consumers. This year, FUSE 2014 united brand strategists and designers, along with trend hunters and culture curators.

The 18th annual FUSE conference celebrated a collaborative approach to building more meaningful brands. All year long, we curate stories about fusing strategy and design in all its' forms to ignite brand passion and growth. This year’s provocative discussions covered graphic design, industrial design, experience design, digital communications, interactive design & social media, brand strategy, trends, and culture with industry icons from Pepsi, Honest Tea, Barney’s, Proctor & Gamble, Nike, Ethan Allen, Colgate Palmolive, Kimberly Clark,  Johnson & Johnson and many more.

Check out these artistic and insightful concept maps created live at the event a few weeks ago by our very own Blogger Michael Plishka, Partner in Designing Innovation at ZenStorming.

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One of the strongest and most valuable brands in the world.

Today, the Associated Press is one of the leading breaking news sources for the world. This is clearly defined by the fact that AP considers 48 hour-old news as archival. This place of trust in our lives has been earned by a brand that embodies the idea of getting it right the first time. It is also earned by those who risk their lives in situations where bullets are as common as Starbucks cups are here.

Freedom of the press is a foundational element of any free culture on the planet. Yet, obtaining news is not free. It has a value in lives lost and hidden stories uncovered. The AP brand has nearly as much history as the United States of America, starting in 1846 as five daily newspapers in New York got together to share the cost of transmitting news. The history also goes back to Mark Kellogg in 1876 being the first AP news correspondent killed while reporting the news and all the way forward to Anja Niedringhaus, who was killed by Afghan police earlier this month. 

Just as freedom is not free, news is not free.  

It is hard to associate the idea of "brand" with such an authentic organization, but the AP is a trusted brand. This challenging perception is only because we associate "brand" with consumable products pitched to us by puffery, advertising and hidden truth. This is in such dramatic contrast with what the AP is, getting to the truth at great costs. But if you have a modern understanding of a strong brand, you know the smallest gap between truth and reality contributes to the strongest brands. So while advertising often leverages puffery and over-promises, the AP has built a brand on the noble effort of uncovering the truth and telling stories with impeccable accuracy.  

This means you could say the AP is one of the strongest brands in the world. 

Now, consider what is spent to build a brand in our society. If you take a modern approach to brands, you know it goes far beyond advertising or promotional budgets. And, you likely know a brand like Starbucks builds a valuable brand by designing an engaging experience around a legally obtainable stimulant. Hence, the entire store operations budget each year is spent on building the Starbucks brand. So what price has been paid to build the Associated Press brand? They have had 32 staffers killed in action over 168 years of AP history. Globally, 1,054 reporters and photojournalists havegiven their lives since 1992. Either number, the price is immeasurable and certainly far beyond any operating budget or advertising spend for any brand on the planet. 

Therefore, you could say the AP is one of the most valuable brands in the world. 

The strongest and most valuable brand in the world is run by a not-for-profit organization. This immensely powerful brand is designed for good, truth and the distribution of knowledge. 

This is why when we talked with Mike Bowser, the AP Director of Branding and Creative Services, we were grateful to hear his thoughtful approach to building the brand. He talked about the evolution of news reporting, photojournalism and the vast amount of archival news the AP has to offer brands. And, the conversation afterward confirmed that Mike was the right person to lead the effort to clearly define the AP brand. Trust in delivering an accurate account was paramount to Mike and speaking to only what he new with great confidence as essential.

Thank you, Mike, for taking the time to inform the FUSE audience. We look forward to future conversations you will design for audiences.   

Where many brands are built on a false promise, the AP brand is built on accuracy, FIRST. 

Managing Principal
Last week, Euromonitor International’s Beverages Analyst Howard Telford attended the FUSE 2014 brand strategy and design conference in Chicago, a premier global conference for the design profession. Below, in an article from Euromonitor International, he shares his thoughts on the growing role of design in the food, beverages and food service sectors.

Pepsi’s high profile rebranding of its US Tropicana orange juice in 2009 was an unmitigated disaster, with a US$35 million investment in new packaging scrapped in favor of the original design after just one month of consumer complaints and shrinking sales. While the formula of the orange juice remained unchanged, the company failed to appreciate the extent to which the package and logo of the brand resonated with its loyal consumers.

Clearly, design matters in soft drinks, food service and packaged foods. Amid the important questions of how healthy a product is - or how much it costs – it is important to remember that the question of brand design can play a similarly vital role in shaping consumer experiences. At this year’s FUSE 2014 conference in Chicago, consumer goods took a front seat in the discussion of how better design can strengthen brands and improve sales.

 In researching global consumer markets, we know design can shape consumer experiences and expectations (although quantifying this impact as researchers is difficult to do). While consumer aesthetics in taste and materials can clearly vary by market and product, the conversation started at FUSE 2014 helps us to identify the bedrock principles that can lead to outstanding product design in CPG.

Be Quiet and Stay True to Your Values

The concept of simplicity is important to consumers, with successful brand designers in 2014 seeking to provide the oasis of calm in an increasingly noisy, multichannel marketing universe. Speakers from Chipotle and Honest Tea spoke of efforts to simplify their distinctive brand identity and messaging without massive marketing budgets and expensive scattershot TV ad campaigns. The importance of true marketing messages and authentic ‘brand voice’ was reinforced by multiple panelists. There is incredible complexity and cost in reaching targeted demographics (the vaunted “Millennials” or “Boomers”) through carefully tailored, focus group tested messages. A simpler and seemingly more successful approach for leading food and beverage companies has been crafting brand message and campaigns that remain true to a company’s values. Consumers value authenticity.

According to Chipotle’s William Espey, it may no longer be possible for the vast majority of brands and retailers to find a way to effectively reach their consumer base, instead engaging in a hopeless attempt to identify needle sized target demographics in enormous, multichannel, media haystacks. Nathanuel Ru, a co-founder of Washington based salad restaurant Sweetgreen, also emphasized the importance of quiet, values oriented branding that invites the consumer to come to you, through outdoor festivals, community outreach programs, warm and inviting store designs and other messages that could not be conveyed on billboards or TV spots. In all cases, outlet interiors, exterior packaging and in-store merchandising are immediate, point of sale design factors that can be crafted and controlled – even by the smallest of consumer goods and food service operators.

Be Interesting and Informative

Opinions can be shared, shaped and amplified by connectivity between consumers. Social channels are a powerful vehicle for brands to master. In order to remain relevant in the crowded, growing marketing universe, brands must be producing content interesting enough for consumers to access information of their own volition. Chipotle’s ‘Cultivate’ campaign – one of the major success stories in US advertising in 2013 – was powerful and informative enough for consumers to seek it out of their own accord.

Consumer confusion is a big problem in contemporary retailing, identified by several speakers at the FUSE conference. With non-standard labelling requirements and new studies, claims and dangers for the global public to interpret and digest, consumers can struggle to choose between natural versus organic products, between added sugar versus naturally occurring fructose, and a host of other health, wellness and sustainability factors – genuine and faddish. Regardless of television, radio or social ad budgets, brand and packaging is the one aspect of marketing and merchandising that a consumer is guaranteed to interact with and therefore represents the most important tool for informing the consumer and shaping opinion. Choosing a package that a consumer will identify and interact with is the best, most cost effective way to answer questions and impact shopper choices.

Give Design a Seat at the Table

Above all else, FUSE 2014 emphasized the importance of product design teams, brand management and senior leadership acting in unison in order to make brand design a success. Keynote speaker Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, took the stage with the company’s Chief Design Officer Mauro Porcini. This marked the first time that a CEO of a Fortune 500 company (a packaged food and drinks company no less) was a speaker at FUSE, a signifier of the growing importance the design profession will play, as available choices and avenues for feedback (positive and negative) expand in modern retailing environments.

Mrs. Nooyi discussed the importance of business “speaking the language of design,” and the challenge of creating an inclusive, design-friendly business culture in a large, bottom-line focused consumer goods company. Rick Slade, Creative Director of Keurig/Green Mountain espoused similar thoughts, considering the challenges of creating a new, cohesive brand voice in a company of appliance engineers and coffee roasters. Giving brand design a seat at the table – not simply as an afterthought or ‘finishing touch’ – but as an integral part of creating interest, demand for a product and rewarding consumer experiences is vitally important. Company leadership in the CPG industry must be involved in prioritizing brand designers.

Demand impacts aesthetic choices but also logistical choices – Mrs. Nooyi identified the problems posed to Pepsi and its competitors by new, multichannel retailing environments. According to Euromonitor International, global online value sales of food and drink will grow by an incredible 15% annually in constant USD through 2018. In addition to the consumer facing impact of design, it is worth considering how tangible package design can contribute or ameliorate the challenges posed by shipping heavy and perishable items long distances in a sustainable way.

Design and the Future Market for Beverages

Package design and design centric branding can help soft drinks manufacturers make a physical connection with consumers – a connection that is clearly not being achieved in mature markets by tinkering with artificial sweeteners and simply increasing the volume of traditional marketing efforts, such as event sponsorship. The industry must begin to view the staid aisles of American supermarkets or still shrink-wrapped stacks of product in European discounters as missed opportunities for consumer engagement.

This connection will be particularly important in the soft drinks industry of the future. Since their Tropicana debacle in 2009, PepsiCo have emerged as a company that is not afraid to experiment with the package as a way of winning consumers. This month, the company launched an advertisement in Colombia (in partnership with a local agency) promoting a new bottle cap for Mountain Dew. Cognizant of the brand’s young, active consumer base, the company added a small wrench indentation to the top of the cap, allowing users to repair the wheel nuts of skateboards. Mountain Dew has been singularly successful in understanding their audience, but remaining true to the youthful, energetic values of the brand. PepsiCo have also placed considerable resources behind the Pepsi Mini Can – a smaller unit size introduced in the US and Western European markets, enabling greater portion control for wellness minded consumers. Competitors Coca-Cola have also tinkered with carbonate package sizes, introducing energy drink style slim line 250ml cans in Western Europe in 2013.

Impulse, on-the-go soft drinks are outperforming in developed markets – competing in the packed coolers of convenience stores and forecourt retailers where they lack the merchandising power of DSD displays and massive branded grocery aisles that they have long enjoyed in the shrinking, less profitable multipack segment. Big soft drinks brands must implement superior design practices and do more to stand out on the shelf, while staying top-of-mind outside the store.
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Attending FUSE is an investment. You seek approval to purchase the hefty registration fee, travel and lodging, you shuffle your day-to-day obligations to be away from the office for 3+ days and you tell your family you are heading to FUSE. If your friends and family are like mine, they say, “What the heck is FUSE?”

Many professional service industries require yearly continuing education credits. Perhaps that’s exactly what FUSE is for design thinkers. Thanks to the planning committee, the three-day schedule is packed with thoughtful variety. Hearing from leading brands and design leaders this year [Ethan Allen, Honest Tea, Simon Doonan, Gilt, Pepsi, Chipotle, to name a few] we can go back to our respective clan with inspiration to share.

Were you listening?

The crowd at FUSE, both speakers and attendees, is comprised of different professions within the discipline of design. We, collectively, represent research, strategy, design and execution across a multitude of industries. And hearing from Simon, the world’s best known window dresser from Barney’s NY, we are reminded how distinctive talents can manifest into rewarding careers. And fortunate for us, a beautiful, unique and visually engaging world around us is the result.

I am thankful the discipline of design provides a profession for many. As the Arts continue to struggle in the world of public education, it is heart warming to see art and design thrive in the business world. Perhaps the epiphany happening in boardrooms will eventually give arts education a much-needed vitamin B12 shot in the asterisk.

We are sad to say farewell to FUSE again. But, with fresh lenses (Warby Parker), a new view of meat (Chipotle) and inspired ideas to share (Economics of Design), we grow as professionals and continue to lead design to a more beautiful and bountiful place.

Think like a professional. Live like a design thinker.

So, my question is, were you listening?

Kitty Hart (
At FUSE 2014 in Chicago this morning, Seung Chan (Slim) Lim, Designer & Researcher, Author, Realizing Empathy, talked to us about the power of realizing empathy and how it translates to brand strategy and design today.

Originally, Slim was actually trained as a computer scientist, then he went into human-centered design. Later, he spent almost four years conducting research at an art school, which inspired him to then immerse himself into the act of making things with his hands with art and even his whole body with dancing and acting.

Slim’s background and research lays a solid foundation of how to realize empathy. So, what exactly is empathy? Empathy is the experience an event where we feel as if we are embodying or understanding the context of another marked by a feeling of connection/oneness/resonance. Specifically, realizing empathy is the process of how to go from point A to point B and traveling that distance.

How can you develop empathy?

There are four key principles that guide developing empathy, according to Slim, which include respecting, listening, considering, and acting. Respecting means to look differently and create value from others differences. Listening is to make meaning and be present and inquiring, willing to unlearn and relearn. Next, considering means to make metaphors and build a language of expression based on shared experiences. Lastly, acting is to be sincerely honest and tell the story of who you are in the moment, while you are willing to be vulnerable in the process.

“Whenever you are having difficulty realizing empathy, there is some sort of conflict that you need to resolve,” Slim said. “In order to do so, you need awareness, care and ability to resolve that conflict.”

Slim explained that ultimately, realizing empathy is creating a shared language - finding a shared experience that intersects the two experiences together to create a shared memory.

To see more highlights of Slim’s keynote and more FUSE 2014 presentations, visit our event archive here:

About the Author: Amanda Ciccatelli, Social Media Strategist of the Marketing Division at IIR USA, has a background in digital and print journalism, covering a variety of topics in business strategy, marketing, and technology. Amanda is the Editor at Large for several of IIR’s blogs including Next Big DesignCustomers 1st, and ProjectWorld and World Congress for Business Analysts. She previously worked at Technology Marketing Corporation as a Web Editor where she covered breaking news and feature stories in the technology industry. She can be reached at Follow her at @AmandaCicc.
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Dave Moore gives us an authentic look at all the rust, dents and scrapes inside the Ethan Allen brand of retail. The changes happening at the speed of retail were sometimes inconsistent and the impact was becoming apparent to Mr. Moore.

He had an epiphany. He wrote a story.

The answer was design.

Much more so than any of their competitors, Ethan Allen had a design story to tell. And, following Dave Moore's catalog cover story about design, March was the best sales month in a very long time.

Designed for life.

>> Built to last. For the life you want to live.
>> Designed for an eclectic life. Designed for a [fill in the blank] life.

This new language formed a foundation for the Ethan Allen brand. Now, Dave gives us a concise list of thoughts and ways to live inside retail or any fast moving culture.

  1. Learn to drive a stick. Automatic doesn't work well in retail. Great metaphor for how retail changes by the minute. 
  2. Drop the deck. No time for anything but the work itself. The presentation deck is not worth the time and effort. Put time into the work of moving at retail speed. 
  3. Know your competition. The sawmill was funded instead of one of his initiatives. Sometimes the sawmill wins. 
  4. Know how your boss rolls. Know how your boss bets so you can be there to help the brand win. Retail leaders are often taking a bet, rolling the dice.
  5. Make friends with Data. The emerging power of data and measuring effectiveness. Data has magical powers if you go deep.
  6. Junk can be beautiful. DM, Promotional, Digital junk works. Apply design to these lowly mediums and it can be beautiful.
  7. Once a week turn your to-do list upside down. You'll never get to the bottom of it, unless you do. This is the best one on his list. A great simple lesson for everyone. 
Well done, Dave Moore. Concise, honest, direct and worthy of the FUSE audience. You've given us bits to consume and take back to our own lives. Thank you for the consumables. 

Enjoy a moment.

Managing Principal
Capsule Brand Strategy

On this last morning of FUSE 2014 in Chicago, Anthony Sperduti, Co-Owner & Creative Director, Partners & Spade took the stage to talk to us about design as narrative.

Etsy, Google, JCrew, Instagram, Conde Nast, Sephora, and Target are just a few of Partners & Spade’s impressive resume of clients.

“Humans are really wired to navigate the world through storytelling,” Sperduti explained. “It’s amazingly powerful tool if you are a marketer or a designer.”

So, what is a brand’s most compelling story? According to Sperduti, here are some ways a brand story becomes compelling:
  • A story is compelling when they surprise.
  • A Story is compelling for the brand when they lead to discovery.
  • A story is compelling for the brand when the story can be told countless ways.
Among many things, Sperduti and his team at Partners & Space have also learned that sometimes narrative can trump design convention. Not to mention, sometimes narrative redefines. In fact, men have spent 18 percent more on fashion in 2013 than in previous years.

Partners & Space has also learned a unique story makes a unique brand. It’s common sense, but it is important to hold on tight to that and recognize that, according to Sperduti.

It is important to ask the question, ‘Is the story being retold?’ “This is the hallmark of any good story, which is the hallmark of any good brand,” said Sperduti.

About the Author: Amanda Ciccatelli, Social Media Strategist of the Marketing Division at IIR USA, has a background in digital and print journalism, covering a variety of topics in business strategy, marketing, and technology. Amanda is the Editor at Large for several of IIR’s blogs including Next Big DesignCustomers 1st, and ProjectWorld and World Congress for Business Analysts. She previously worked at Technology Marketing Corporation as a Web Editor where she covered breaking news and feature stories in the technology industry. She can be reached at Follow her at @AmandaCicc.
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Dr. Nadereh Afsharmanesh shared a heartfelt and inspiring approach to building a sustainable business. Again, many of her methods are simple to understand, but they require commitment and follow through, and as such, aren't necessarily easy to implement. (Click to see full size)

Click to See Full Size

About the Author

Michael Plishka is the President of ZenStorming(TM), a design and innovation consultancy. He can be followed on Twitter @Plish and through LinkedIn.

Read more at his  ZenStorming Blog.
Ron Davis and Mark Roberts of Davis, share their thoughts on the role of tension in design and creativity. (click for full size map)

Click for full size map

About the Author

Michael Plishka is the President of ZenStorming(TM), a design and innovation consultancy. He can be followed on Twitter @Plish and through LinkedIn.

Read more at his  ZenStorming Blog.

An inspiring presentation of the simple (Not easy. Simple) design process of thinking inside the box of constraints.
(Click for full size)

Click for full size

About the Author

Michael Plishka is the President of ZenStorming(TM), a design and innovation consultancy. He can be followed on Twitter @Plish and through LinkedIn.

Read more at his  ZenStorming Blog.

A mini how-to on designing meaning in products and brands.  Great content! (Click for full size)

Click for Full Size

About the Author

Michael Plishka is the President of ZenStorming(TM), a design and innovation consultancy. He can be followed on Twitter @Plish and through LinkedIn.

Read more at his  ZenStorming Blog.
Buzz words, yes. Over-used? Maybe.

Truth, yes.

True, design has come into its own. Over the past 15 years of our firm, we’ve watched with glee as the C-Suite welcomed the discipline of design to the adult table. We’ve had great conversations with Mauro Porcini previously with 3M and now with PepsiCo. Vince Voron held the design lead title at Coke and we’ve enjoyed many conversations with him over the subject of design-centered culture. And, of course, there are many more CDOs leading the charge. The beautiful thing is those of us who design and function in the capacity of selling design services and consultancy to brands of the world, large and small, are now pushing a smaller boulder uphill.

For this, our tired backs are thankful.

We are also thankful for our collaborators and colleagues who work hard to educate on the value of design. We know it’s not just about making “pretty”. We understand that brands are critical corporate assets. Nurture them, feed them, protect them or they die.

So, FUSE is always a wonderful immersion into who’s doing what, what’s new, hints at things to come. But, if we took a shot of vodka every time someone dropped the phrase design-thinking, deep empathy, authenticity, design with a big D and transparency, we’d be a couple hundred very stylish, hip and intoxicated thinkers.

The reality is, our industry has come a long way… baby. And, the buzzwords of today, while perhaps over-used, are the product of smart and talented thought-leaders. Oh, there’s another one! Thought-leaders. Bottoms up.

Buzz words, yes. Over-used? Maybe.

Raise a glass to buzzwords tonight.


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