P&G sketches way to revive design

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Aside from the blaring-orange Tide bull's-eye and a handful of other logos etched indelibly in the popular consciousness, Procter & Gamble Co.'s design efforts historically have been fairly forgettable.

But Chairman-CEO A.G. Lafley set out to change that when he returned to P&G's Cincinnati headquarters in 1999 from nearly a decade-long tour of design-crazy Japan. In 2001, he appointed the company's first-ever chief design officer, Claudia Kotchka. And together they're trying to weave design sensibility into the fabric of P&G's marketing and product-development efforts.

Each of P&G's global business units now has its own top design officer, and the company has sent its once centralized design team to work alongside its research and development staff. In a company that has tightened its belt considerably in recent years, Ms. Kotchka is hiring more designers.

But Ms. Kotchka is the first to admit she's no designer herself. She was originally a CPA for Arthur Andersen in Cincinnati until she got bored and decided to apply to that big brand marketer down the street. There, Ms. Kotchka worked her way up through the marketing organization and was creating P&G's Tremor online viral-marketing program for teens when Mr. Lafley tapped her for the design post.


"I was the first non-designer to do that, and [the designers] were not necessarily happy about that at first," she says, laughing. "I really had to learn a lot about what design is, since the design group informed me that I didn't know. And frankly, P&G didn't know a lot about it other than logos."

Ms. Kotchka and Mr. Lafley have sought tutelage from such far-flung marketers as Sony Corp. Perhaps P&G's biggest recent design successes to date have come in elegant packaging for the 2001 Olay Total Effects line.

Burgeoning design consciousness also can be found in more pedestrian products such as Tampax Pearl tampons launched earlier this year. The product's appeal lies as much in its pearlescent plastic applicators and decorative plastic wrappers as its functional improvements. It's the first tampon package with a window to show off the product, Ms. Kotchka says as she unwraps a tampon to explain its design elements. But while she, and P&G, give marketing executives more training on design, they'd also like the marketing folks to keep their hands off and let the pros handle it.

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