Design Q&A: Marcus Hewitt

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Marcus Hewitt has been named to the newly created position of chief creative officer at brand and design consultancy Dragon Rouge U.S. Hewitt will be based in the New York office of Dragon Rouge, which bills itself as the largest independent brand and design consultancy, with additional offices in Brussels, Hamburg, London, Paris and Warsaw. Hewitt, who is also an adjunct professor at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology, and the School of Visual Arts, was formerly CCO and a managing partner at Sterling Brands, where he worked for more than 13 years. Prior to that, he worked with Pentagram, the Michael Peters Group, and Walter Dorwin Teague. Below, Hewitt fields some design questions.
Marcus Hewitt
Marcus Hewitt

What's your take on marketers' perception of the value of good design?

Hewitt: At Dragon Rouge, I'm primarily involved in brand packaging design and corporate branding. In packaging in particular, we're working with our clients to design the outside surface of packaging—not the stuff inside. Like many designers, I sometimes differentiate myself from being a marketer, so I checked the definition used by the AMA: "The process of planning and executing the conception, pricing, promotion and distribution of ideas, goods and services to create exchanges that satisfy individual and organizational objectives." So sure enough, I'm a marketer, because I'm definitely involved in the promotion of goods. To me, good design starts with the product. Google, Starbucks and the other brand leaders don't just promote well, they also deliver on what they promise. Toyota's quality/price offer, for instance, has the rest of the world beat before traditional "marketing" begins—and don't forget the power of word of mouth. So I would say that good design, inside and outside, just gives marketing a much better springboard.

OK, but you're a designer first. Do the hardcore marketers get it?

As we develop relationships with our clients, we're able to educate them on the value of branding and all of the elements associated with it—identity, packaging, etc.—at the same time that we learn about their particular business. For new brand managers, it takes time and experience to understand the process. For some of them, it's completely foreign and they find it hard to communicate what they want. I've always said the most anxious person in a presentation is the client—they've got the most to lose and they don't do this stuff every day. They may have worked on a brand for less time than us, and it's not always easy to get across what their objectives are, let alone the importance of "good" design and the risk it may involve. So we've developed "lunch and learns" for clients to help them understand the process of the brand life cycle, and even to understand the technical aspects of the design/production process. We work with them on the creative brief and we also share relevant category insights—inspiring articles, products, books—stuff that inspires the whole team to creative possibilities. That's the fun part. You learn from each other and you grow together. It's not all about us telling the client what to do or vice versa.

Name some brands you like for their design or marketing innovation.

Skipping the usual suspects like Apple and Starbucks, which seem to do everything right, here are some I'd include:

Method: They've proved that home cleaning products can be beautiful, and they keep expanding the line in innovative ways.

Mrs. Meyer's "aromatherapeutic" household cleaners: I just love the smell, and the stuff actually feels "richer."

P&G's Swiffer: It created a new category and proved basic products can be innovative. But why does the packaging look so boring? The real impact from this will be to encourage the other huge consumer goods companies to innovate.

Tito's Handmade Vodka: My liquor store practically forced me to try it. It's cheap, but the quality is amazing—vodka from Austin, Texas, that can stand up to any global brand.

Karla Beer: "Functional beer for women" with fruit juice and herbs. Watch out!

American Apparel: That whole vertical manufacturing thing is really cool—"rich-country wages" and the ability to change their product line in days.

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