Thursday, July 19, 2007

Learning from a napkin

Anyone familiar with the birth of Lovemarks knows that my core idea about the future of brands was to add love to respect, and how this relationship could work was first drawn on a restaurant table napkin. A sign of the sensual promise of Lovemarks is that it was a linen napkin, not a paper one! Working out an idea on a napkin has become part of creative tradition. People so excited by the speed and clarity of their thoughts at that moment, they simply seize whatever is closest at hand. Who is surprised that so often it happens over good food, good wine and good company?

When Dassault Systèmes wanted to celebrate the introduction of their new CATIA V5R14 package (they need to do something about that name!), they teamed up with design connectors Core77 and invited designers from around the world to explore ideas of form that deal with a fundamental element: Water. And this is where the table napkins come in. Plain white paper napkins were dispatched to leading designers and 750 napkin sketches from more than 65 countries were the response. Entries ranged from quick ideas to complicated fantasies on the theme of “imagine and shape”. The organizers summed up that “the medium of ink on paper napkin provided unstructured foundations on which to play". To check out the best of the entries and to see who won prizes, go here.

There’s another angle to this that Dassault might explore the next time round. I spoke at their Annual Leadership Convention earlier this year and of course the shift in power from manufacturers to consumers inspired my remarks. Every project always raises the same question for me: where are consumers in this? While consumers don’t want to take over the design process – why would they want to? – they are immensely important to it, particularly in the early stages. The idea-on-a-napkin stage in fact. So here’s a thought. How about extending the competition next year to the people who have a profound understanding of water – the people who drink it?