Is Design Thinking PepsiCo’s Secret to Market Dominance?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Pepsico CEO Indra Nooyi took up the reins of the company when it was facing considerable drop in sales. As a way to address this, she revised her business strategy to make it more inclusive for consumers. She famously went after Mauro Porcini and sought his expert advice to redesign PepsiCo’s user experience. Eventually, her team resolved the problems by relying on an iterative process of understanding users and providing instinctive solutions.

Under the leadership of Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo prioritised user-specific solutions, designed products that were more human-centric and earned the company record-breaking revenues apart from accolades. User experience was not a part of PepsiCo’s business strategy until the early 2010s. Whether it was their product packaging, form or function, that human element was missing in the design. Once they focused on customer experience and made design a priority, customers responded by engaging with the brand more. From designing touch-screen fountain machines (Pepsi Spire) to launching a special line of women’s snacks, PepsiCo reconditioned the way consumers interact with products. Mauro Porcini successfully introduced a more consumer-centric PepsiCo to the world with design thinking being the key driver behind all these changes.

The company leveraged design to drive innovation and create relevant brand experience for their customers. Design thinking helped them change their brand’s visual identity and improve the product itself. Following an iterative prototyping process, Pepsico was able to align the company goals around the product, helping transform obscure ideas and overcome plausible blockers in production process.

What really helped PepsiCo’s journey towards success was a deep understanding of consumer needs – the idea that the product had to communicate with the consumer in a way in which was unheard of before. Getting a perception of what consumers wanted from each of the products- vending machines, fountains or consumables and crafting the experience accordingly helped the company reclaim the market. 

The Pepsi spire (a series of fountains and vending machines) is the most loved and the first in the design enhanced line of products. Pepsi Spire allows customers to customize their drinks by communicating with a highly responsive touch-screen fountain. Now, if you are wondering if design thinking is just about enhancing product packaging, it’s not quite so. Pepsi Spire is a classic example of how design thinking can impact all phases of product-customer experience. The spire is basically a futuristic machine that speaks to customers and invites them to interact with it. Its intelligent interface reminds customers of the order history and suggests new options based on the customer profile. They can also experience the infusion digitally by watching the whole process of adding their favourite elements in the drink on the screen in real time- right when they select it. This approach extends the enhanced customer experience to the post-product phase and makes it holistic. Pepsi Spire has now become iconic and inspired a series of intelligent vending machines. 

Other Companies taking Cue from PepsiCo

Using design thinking to drive business means designing solutions with customers in mind – not only will that lead to more customer satisfaction but also establish businesses as distinguishable brands. What company wouldn’t want that? Global leaders are already using design thinking to align their customer’s goals and step into the future. Let’s take a look at the top companies who have already benefited from this model. 

Apple:  Apple is undeniably a classic example of how reconstructing user experience through innovation can lead to revolutionary success. At its core, Apple remains a company that has always championed innovation and delivered unique customer-driven experiences – all thanks to design thinking. Apple products ranging from iPhone, MacBook to ios not just bring you exquisite usability but also optimised functionality. From providing a holistic user experience to predicting customer needs, Apple has successfully shown the rest of the world how it’s done.

Nike: Nike has been a pioneer in merging sports with fashion. A brand which primarily targeted athletes and helped them enhance performance has now become quite a fashion trailblazer. “Move forward” (their pet phrase) not only dictates their designs but also aptly captures their user imagination. All along, design thinking has been instrumental in shaping their advanced products and services.

Google: Needless to say, Google has been acing the game and how! Whether it is Google map or Google Pixel’s image software, Google products are glaring examples of enhanced designs. Google teams are constantly thinking ahead of time and designing products and services that answer futuristic customer needs. Google’s constant endeavour to design products with a focus on user experience has established the brand as a world leader in design thinking.

Design Thinking has been around for longer than we think and its focus towards building enhanced user experiences has made it a much coveted strategy for brand building today. To put it in Porcini’s own words,

“People don’t buy, actually, products anymore, they buy experiences that are meaningful to them, they buy solutions that are realistic, that transcend the product, that go beyond the product, and mostly they buy stories that need to be authentic.”

PepsiCo’s success has since then inspired many other companies to rethink their business strategy and hire design thinking experts. If you are an enthusiast, learn more about it here.

Education: Excellence for few or access for many?

Reading Time: 2 minutes


Singapore ranks #1 in the global PISA rankings.

Just four US universities (Harvard, Columbia, Chicago, MIT) have produced over 400 Nobel laureates.

About 82% of Danish citizens are enrolled in post-secondary education, while over 2% of the US (over 6 million people) can call themselves doctors – either medical or through a PhD.

So what’s the right measure of a country’s educational prowess? Which of these countries offers the ‘best’ education?

In his great new podcast, Revisionist History, Malcolm Gladwell offers a strong vs. weak link framework to understand advancement and higher education. To use a sports analogy, a strong link sport is one where one superstar or high-performing individual can often influence outcomes, as in the case of basketball. A weak link sport is one where an above average team with no tangible superstars will often beat a mediocre team with one superstar. Leicester City’s league win in last year’s English Premier League is one such example. Gladwell uses this framework to explain why the Industrial Revolution gained momentum in England – where a large number of common folk were proficient tinkerers – rather than in France or Germany where the elite few had attained remarkable heights. He proceeds to compare Stanford – a strong link university – with Rowan University, a small and deliberately weak link university in New Jersey.

What constitutes a good education? And as an educator, should you build strong link systems or weak link institutions? In other words, do you focus on access or global excellence? Do you build institutions that enable access to the largest slice of the population or focus on the few most likely to succeed and build a truly cutting edge system?

The tempting answer is ‘both’. Where possible, we should combine breadth with depth. But let me throw another complication to the mix – what in Mathematics is often called initial conditions.

See, the initial conditions – the starting point – aren’t the same for all countries and communities. We don’t have the same populations, resources, values and levels of homogeneity. Here in India, we’ve made a concerted effort to build strong link institutions – IISc, IITs, IIMs and AIIMS. We are justifiably proud of graduates from these institutions, and these graduates occupy a majority of the senior leadership positions in academia, business, medicine and even startups. But we don’t seem to be doing as much about wide-reaching access to good quality education. I’m not talking about nominal access – on paper. I’m talking about access to the kind of education that can help you learn and even master topics, get a good job, perform well in that job, and build a strong career. Millions need this kind of education, the kind of education that launches a million careers in a thousand companies.  We aim to be just this kind of an institution, but I’m sure we are not alone in this endeavour.

If you know of transformative weak-link educational institutions that improve access to high-quality education in India, please write to We would love to work with like-minded people to improve learning outcomes.