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Inside the Capsule

Capsule was founded 20 years ago – when marketing was still smoking from the “integrated marketing” bong. We started with the intention of becoming an Experience Design firm, inspired by Pine and Gilmore’s book, “The Experience Economy”. We eventually did some fantastic experience design work for Panda Express, Caribou, Penske Trucks and Capital One – but at the time most of our clients sought us out for brand strategy, research and design.

What you come to realize after many years is, your reputation is anchored to where you’ve been successful in the eyes of the beholder. Said another way, our friends, clients, partners and collaborators see us through a tinted lens, only seeing our successes in their world. This would be great if we only did one thing versus a portfolio of capabilities each building upon the other.

If you’re a pessimist, this might trouble you and cause frustration. If you’re an optimist, like me, you see this as a constant opportunity to delight and surprise. So, as we head into our twentieth year as a venture of note, we’ll offer up a few surprises – tell us if you’d expect it or if we’ve surprised you.

Let’s start with something easy.

We’ve done some great design work for Patagonia, traveled all over the world, researched packaging, hang tags and the human interactions with clothing. We’ve done this to inform special design efforts inside Patagonia, delivering a fresh new hang tag program and an elegant solution to a global package. You can see behind the curtain here on the second effort, hang tag research or you can also see the packaging structure design effort and how the honey comb box came to life.

Not too surprising for a 20 year old firm, right?

Okay, let’s take it up a notch. How about the global brand Red Wing Shoes and the refeathering (rebranding) we did to make it more functional. We took three months to redraw the red wing, staying within the trademark boundaries required for an international brand. An overview of the process is here in a simplified form. We designed a toolkit for the Red Wing Shoes team, along with guidelines and all the required learnings to implement this new wing across hundreds of coveted products. Then, we wrote about it in a book published in five languages globally, Design Matters : Logos.

Surprised yet? Okay, let’s go farther.

We named the next apple. That’s the fruit, not a product with “i” in front of it. We named the next fruit invented by the horticultural scientists at the University of Minnesota. We called it RAVE and it has a local name, First Kiss. Apple trees have moms and dads, this one has the honor to call the Honey Crisp (Mn Princess apple) its mom and a redneck from Arkansas its dad. Yes, if you’re going to imply two apple trees “hooked up” to create a new breed of apple, we’re certainly going to creatively come up with names like Wild Child. You can see the full presentation of concepts here – the first round of ideation.

Sure, it makes sense we’d name an apple, so no surprise when we named a chair for Herman Miller.

Let’s take this up a notch, or two. How about this digital stuff that’s been going on for two decades, what’s Capsule been up to in that space? Thank you for asking, how about a “puffy coat kiosk” by the largest manufacturer of puffy coats in China? It included a digital interface, but also a physical interface with all the bits and parts to design a “unique to you” coat for the slopes. As the future of physical retail remains uncertain, this new experience is gathering thousands of interactions, designs and sales, in each store where it lands. Though, because we did digital interface design for Medtronic for years, this really shouldn’t be a surprise – right?

Not surprised yet? Seriously?

Okay, let’s go back into the archives to study an iconic successful-failure. The work was for Coty Beauty (Del Labs at the time) and a portfolio of nail care brands (LaCrosse, NYC, and Sally Hansen) in Target. We were commissioned to conduct a comprehensive study of the aisle, identifying behaviors, belief systems and other challenges to retailing nail care products. We spent months observing human behaviors, interviewing shoppers and eventually discovering nuances that would lead to a 72% week-over-week improvement in sales. The results are still relevant to any retailer today. Coty became a 15 year client.

Certainly this has to raise a plucked eyebrow?

One more small thing, really small, at least at the start. The financial results we’ve delivered for clients along with our continuous fascination with startups has led to early stage investing. Yes, Capsule has a stake in a few ventures around the country, from our efforts to help launch these new brands into the world. From a boxed water, to craft beer, to an augmented reality kids game to an international vodka brand, Capsule has designed a way for early ventures to increase their odds of success. If you’d like to see some 3D rendered bottles, designed to “double cross” you -- enjoy here.

If you’re not surprised, can we suggest, check your pulse and see a cardiologist soon.

Okay, that sparks a memory, our work with two billion dollar healthcare systems in the Dakotas, Sanford Health System and MeritCare Health System. The merger of two into one is rarely seen as a merger of equals, this needed to, hence the line we provided was “The New We” when defining the brand strategy going forward. The new brand would invite all stakeholders from each brand system into a, identity, messaging and visual language.

Okay, you’ve made it this far, you must be intrigued.

We’ll be celebrating our twenty years of interesting “special projects” in a variety of ways. We are flying the entire staff to Denver for inspiration, team building and recharging the creative batteries. We’ll certainly entertain any other ways to celebrate, even a type of project we have yet to do -- the more surprising the better.

Kelly Leighton
VP of Client Experience, Capsule

Aaron Keller
Founding Partner, Capsule

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Categories Capsule News, Work

Our moms say we should put ourselves out there.