Martin J. Beck is CEO of the Cloverleaf Group, a family of companies that combines the ingredients necessary to help clients research, strategize, plan, design, build, and deliver the products, communication systems, and physical spaces that make up high-performing consumer experiences.
He was a partner and senior vp at RichardsonSmith (in Columbus, Ohio) when it was acquired by Fitch. It became Fitch Richardson/Smith, which became Fitch R/S, which became Fitch, which became Fitch: Worldwide, a publicly traded company of which Beck was chairman, president and ceo.
Beck lives on a farm near Columbus with his wife, son, 12 horses, six dogs, donkey, goat and many cars and trucks.
Martin, thank you for taking time for this interview.
Marco, thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts!
Could you explain a bit about your background and career in design?
I am a New Yorker by birth (Brooklyn, and then Long Island) and went to Pratt – class of ’65.
I wanted to be a painter but became enamored with sculpture. There wasn’t a sculpture program at Pratt so I joined the Industrial Design Department (where I learned to build things – very handy!)
I was a terrible student in high school (bottom 1/3 of my class) but loved college and graduated 1st in my class and won the first Walter Darwin Teaque award for industrial design graduates.
So without planning to or even wanting to I wound up with an Industrial Design degree.
My first job was in Detroit with Ford & Earle Associates, and being a small multidimensional office, I got a chance to work on graphics and interiors as well as product design.
I’ve never really understood the difference between one kind of design and another. It’s always finding a ‘big idea’ and then embodying the idea so that it can be consumed and give pleasure to the consumer.
My career shifted to New York in the 70′s when there were many more job opportunities than designers. So I job hopped, always learning, always experimenting. The first graphic designer at Morison Cousins & Associates, Loewy/Snaith (for two weeks), George Nelson (one day), Kissellof and Wimmershof (3 months as an exhibit designer) and on and on. Why did I hop around so much aside form the fact that I could (and got a raise each time)? Because early on I was frustrated that all of these places were trying to solve problems based on a client’s brief. It seemed like we were the hands and the clients had the brainsâwe were being asked to shape objects not shape experiencesâhow could we without access to the very people who would ultimately buy our creationsâ the consumer.
I also wondered how you could design a product without being intimately involved in how it was positioned, named, packaged, and merchandisedâwerenât they all part of the same total experience?
So I decided that to change things I had to be more than the guy at the drawing board (that definitely dates me). I had to become a partner and run the show (or at least strongly participate).
Next up was a 10 year stint as partner at Gregory Fossella Associates in Boston (now defunct) and then onto running Richardson/Smith which became Fitch (through acquisition) then running Fitch (out of London) and then running Lighthouse Global Network (Chicago) which bought Fitch and took it private, acquired 14 companies and was sold to Cordiant concurrent with my leaving. This âFitchâ? experience lasted almost twenty years.
In 2002 I actually started a business for the first time. With Aaron Spiess as my partner in Big Red Rooster, we decided to build a company that would seamlessly combine insight, strategy and embodiment across a broad range of inter-related needsâthe positioning of the product, the package, the display, and if appropriate, the store itself.
In 2003 we merged with IDL Worldwide, a merchandising solutions company and shortly thereafter became part of Matthews International Corporation (through its Matthews Brand Solutions Group).
What is design for you?
It depends on which word design you meanâthe first Design with a capital âD,â? is creating or arranging things so that they give a new order to the universe, a new concept, the fulfillment of some unmet need, and the âahhâ? moment, a big idea. The other âdesignâ? I think of as stylingâgiving something a form that connects to the consumerâthe right color, ergonomics, shape, texture, etc.
They both are means of connecting and communicating. Design with the capital âDâ? to me is the higher order because it is much more fundamental. To Design the wheel is to change everything, to change the way we live. To design a wheel is to choose the right colors, materials, and details so that the wheel is desirable.
Now as to which is more emotional. The latter is able to create immediate emotional responseâ¦the âI love itâ?, âI want itâ?, and this design with a lower case âdâ? is most of what we see everydayâgood and bad, but Design is fundamental, it shapes our future and ultimately the emotions it evokes are awe and wonderâit just takes much longer to sink in.
How would you position design in the growing field that focuses on improving customer experiences?
Why would you design something that didnât focus on improving customer experiences?
Itâs an expansion on that last question of what is design. I believe itâs not about objects and thingsâthey are only the physical embodiments of the idea, a way of delivering the experience.
My car is not just an objectâthe conglomeration of thousands of pieces parts and a mix of materials. It moves meâphysically and emotionally. It has to work (donât they all these days) but mostly it has to work for me. More than that, the experience of âcar-nessâ? includes learning about what my choices are, the purchasing experience (ugh), the sensory touchpoints (what it looks like, smells like, drives like, sounds like, how it makes me feel)âand to be honestâhow others might feel about me. So what is car design? How do I separate the surface details from the sales brochure, the color palette from the salesperson, or from the service personnel.
Everything is about the consumer experience!
When we talk about âdesigning for emotionâ?, what does that mean and stand for in your opinion?
Itâs easy to understand how we design to appeal to the senses. How things look, how they feel, how they smell, taste, and sound (in whatever order or proportion is important).
Itâs not that difficult to understand how we design to appeal to the intellect. Do I need it? Will it work? Will it last? Is it a good value? Will I regret buying it?
But what about designing to appeal to the emotional being? Does it âmoveâ? me? Is this something I must have? Is it joyous? Touching? Vital? All harder to describe and to measure objectively. But all the same, when we âfeel,â? it we know itâs there.
How would you explain the shift in designing products as objects to seeing products more as a part of a larger whole (experience). As Peter Merholz (Adaptive Path) recently stated: the experience is the product.
I think that itâs evolutionary. Our fascination with manufactured objects was a natural progression from the crafts movement to the industrial revolution to âindustrial designâ? and all of its manifestations in the 20th century (Bauhaus, Memphis, et al.).
But the 21st century is about connectivity and objects are more often than not merely carriers of information. Is the computer as an âobjectâ? the fascination, or is it the software, the conduit to the world through the Internet, the DVDâs and music? Is it the mobile handset or the built in camera, the text messaging, or the video downloads. We are becoming ever more connected and objects are only one part of the connectivity. Even low tech objectsâis my beautiful dinnerware meaningful without the mealâand if the meal is beautifully presented, tastes and smells delicious and truly satisfies me, arenât the objects and the experience unified?
How does this development influence the structure of design firms, and how are you dealing with that in your agency?
Designing experiences and reaching into consumerâs emotional being take a tremendous amount of understanding about how consumers live, how they love, what they want, need and dream about. At Big Red Rooster more than half of our budgets (and half of our people) are directly focused on insight development and strategy. Knowing what really matters to the consumer has become a requirement to being successful in helping our clients succeed. I see this becoming more important in many firms. Also, with the power of retailers in determining what will be sold and how it will be presented, we have worked to have a balance of retailers and consumer product companies as our clientsâthey both have the same consumer.
You put Fitch on the map internationally, which is a known design company purely focused on customers. What did you take along from Fitch in your current work?
While at Fitch we grew by broadening the offer to our clients. The question was always what came just before us, and what comes after? Could we insure a better result by starting sooner and staying involved longerâfrom conception to consumption. How could we help get ideas to market quickly and cost effectively while always staying focused on the consumers wants and needs. How could we maintain a staff with diverse backgrounds, skills, and knowledge and have them work seamlessly together.
At Big Red Rooster we took these learnings and expanded upon them. At Fitch the end of our process was the handoff to the clientâs manufacturing arm or to a vendorâ someone who would actually produce whatever it was we designed.
At CloverLeaf Group we combine the consulting skills of strategy and design with the ability to manufacture directly.
Could you explain something about the three companies that form CloverLeaf Group, which you are currently heading?
CloverLeaf Group is comprised of Big Red Rooster, âA strategically driven design and innovation companyâ? which we sometimes refer to as âA business focused design consultancyâ? or as a âGrowth Consultancyâ?, but basically an amazingly smart and talented group of very experienced people from different disciplines who truly work together seamlessly (no departments or groups) to help our clients, be they consumer product companies or retailers, successfully connect with their consumers.
IDL Worldwide is a merchandising solutions company that specializes in designing and producing instore solutions through an upfront consultancy linked to a large inhouse manufacturing arm and a group of outside vendor partners.
ImageSure is the systems arm of CloverLeaf, which provides our clients (and ourselves) with workflow solutions and instore tracking systems.
My role is as CEO of CloverLeaf Group, but I also serve as Group President of our parent group Matthews Brand Solutions.
We have almost 2,000 people in 31 offices around the world providing a broad array of integrated solutions involving the product, the package, the display, and the store brand itself. Close to $300m a year in sales and lots and lots of happy clients and happy consumersâitâs hard for me not to get emotional!
I would like to add an important aside here. Itâs always embarrassing to talk about myself and not âweâ?. âI did thisâ?, and âI did thatâ?. In truth, Iâve been blessed all of my career to have worked with so many wonderful and fascinating peopleâeach who has taught me something, and some who Iâve taught a thing or two. Particularly in the area of letting design be emotional I would single out Arthur Eilertson, Jean-Francois Bentz, and my wife, Davina (a terrific designer).
In my business role Iâm sometimes much too cool and calculating and one needs to be reminded that the end result of our efforts is to âmoveâ? peopleâ¦to reach deep into their hearts and not just their minds and pocketbooks.
On this same subject, when I say âweâ? I am referring to all of my compatriots who also deserve all of the credit for whatever success Iâve hadâit is also important to remember that our clients are the patrons and partners that make it all possible. The way we work they are also integral team members and so when we say what Big Red Rooster, or IDL Worldwide or CloverLeaf Group did for Microsoft or Nike or Pepsi, or Motorola, or Chiquita Brands and on, and on what we really mean is what we did with them.
Which are the most important elements that need to be addressed when designing for optimal consumer experiences?
Obviously the most essential element is an understanding of just who the consumer is. There is no one universal consumer, which is why there is no one universal design that will always create the desired experience.
Once you know who you are trying to appeal toâwhich would include why your trying in the first place, we must then answer what it is that will work for that person and how will we achieve a desired result. Here there needs to be a tool boxânot of ones own styleâbut of the desires of the intended consumer. As I said before, itâs not about objects only, but rather about all of the components that surround and permeate the essence of the experience. Itâs about head, hand, and heart.
Which products/designs get you âemotional?â Any final thoughts you would like to share on this subject of âdesign & emotionâ?
Many, if not most designs make me emotional in a negative way. Why donât they work better? Feel better? Look better? What was the designer thinking and did he/she ever sit in the chair, try to read by the light, actually drive the car and operate the controls. OK, my rant is over.
What I really love is inexpensive (Skagen) wristwatches (so restricting yet so much variety and Iâve never designed one), my Bose noise-canceling headset, shoes (especially Mephistos), and actually, in spite of what Iâve said above, I get positively emotional about most things.
But my secret passion is composing and creating music, and though Iâve talked about teams and group efforts this is one thing I do on my own (actually, Davina is my critic and guide). I use the name morejellybread and can best describe it as âcosmic fusionâ? and itâs all created on synthesizers and computers. I wish I had started much sooner when I looked good enough to get up on stage. Now Iâd have to hire a stand-in aâla Milli Vanilli.
Aside from my 3 sons, all jointly designed, music makes me more emotional than almost anything elseâ¦. then again I do love the power of design to make people say â ohh!â?, and âahh!â?
Thanks Marco, itâs been fun!
[tags]emotional design, martin beck, getting emotional with, design, cloverleaf, big red rooster, experience design[/tags]