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Design & Innovation Transformation at Newell Rubbermaid

Posted By DMI, Tuesday, August 26, 2014
By: Chuck Jones, Chief Design and Research & Development Officer, Newell Rubbermaid

Great design is a competitive advantage and it’s an exclusive tier of companies that recognize and endorse its impact. Throughout my career I’ve seen this model successfully applied across many diverse verticals. At Newell Rubbermaid, I’m bringing design to the forefront of the consumer durables space. We make products consumers use every day and our well-known brands like Rubbermaid, Sharpie, Graco, Irwin and Paper Mate lead their categories. These brands, some of which you might least expect, are extremely responsive to design and innovation. My team is applying the power of a $6 billion corporation’s design resources to redefine our categories’ future – from revolutionizing everyday writing to making the Brute trash can more simple to use.
This is unprecedented in our category, but it hasn’t happened overnight. We are becoming a brand and innovation led company that is famous for design and product performance. This mantra is internal inspiration and it’s my vision for our entire organization. It is a vision that is blessed by my peers on the Executive Leadership Team and a reality with every designer working on at our new state-of-the-art Design Center in Kalamazoo, Mich.
We are embedding design and innovative thinking into everything we do. The past 18 months have been a turning point, enabling us to transform our culture, truly deliver products that surprise, delight, and please our consumers and help strengthen our position as a leader in innovation – all from our new home in Southwest Michigan.

An Organization Built to Support Culture
We believe in the impact of design, and we endorse it with a structure that follows suit.  Newell Rubbermaid’s new Design Center epitomizes that commitment every hour of every working day.  We recently pulled all design and innovation talent, including Industrial Design, Graphic Design, Usability and Interaction Design, together in to one center of excellence. Now we can offer meaningful, rich experiences and professional development. A designer who is working in Writing can walk 50 steps and be immersed in Tools – this is an incredible sandbox for designers to play in.
For us, having these capabilities under one roof will foster creativity, maximize sharing of ideas and enhance our product innovation funnel. And we’ve added a new expertise, Usability, to ensure consumers are at the heart of every stage of the product development process from a physical and cognitive standpoint. We view design as a team sport, and that includes our colleagues in Consumer Insights and Marketing, Supply Chain and Customer Development. The approximately 115 designers living and working in Kalamazoo are evangelizing design and innovative thinking throughout the company.

Design: What’s Transforming Our Brands
Our products have conversations with consumers every day, and design is the language. We are leveraging the opportunity for more distinct design – in products, packaging, advertising and merchandising – to ensure our brands are instantly recognizable. For instance, the original Sharpie fine tip marker has an iconic design and the visual DNA speaks to consumers. If you look across the entire Sharpie portfolio, we have the opportunity to make that visual brand equity extend further. How can we challenge the brand to use design thinking even more strategically to create platforms, drive simplicity and reach consumers? These are the conversations that are being amplified even more at Newell Rubbermaid, led by our talent in Kalamazoo.

Attracting Diverse, Global Talent to Michigan
At the foundation of this culture and transformation, our people are the strongest advantage. We’ve drawn talent from near and far (for example, Germany, Belgium, China, and, of course, Kalamazoo), and our prolific designers bring with them a diversity of perspective and experience. We selected Southwest Michigan because of its strong presence of local, design-driven companies and talent and a growing educational community. As we grow we are simultaneously building Southwest Michigan as a hub for design and innovation.

Our end goal is to leverage design in a meaningful way, to make products that are demonstrably better, different and worth it for consumers worldwide. The Design Center makes this a reality by enabling collaboration to differentiate our products from the competitive set and deliver the promise of sustainably growing our people, our brands and Newell Rubbermaid.

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