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You’ve heard the name—James Sommerville. He’s Coca-Cola’s Design VP. Over the last 3 years his work has been seen by billions of consumers, in over 200 countries. He’s considered a key leader in one of the world’s most valuable and innovative brands. With those credentials, he’s definitely got some valuable information worth listening to and some advice worth following. He shared with the HOW team about the recent rebrand of Diet Coke. You can hear James speak from his vast experience at HOW Design Live in Boston April 30-May 3. But let’s start with the rebrand story and how he tapped into a rising talent creative lead with fresh ideas who embodies what the brand stands for. It’s never too early in your career to do something BIG!

When his team was challenged with giving Diet Coke a modern design makeover, James tapped a designer who matched the profile of the brand’s consumer audience to spearhead the project.

“We wanted to make sure the creative lead from our side was a rising talent but also part of the core Diet Coke demographic—someone who would not only bring to the table creative thinking and strategic direction, but also a passionate Diet Coke fan who would be drinking the product for years to come and who embodies what the brand stands for,” Sommerville said.

Elyse Larouere, 26, has loved Diet Coke as long as she can remember. “I grew up with it in the fridge at home and drank it all the time with my mom and my aunts,” she recalls. “But just as my mom’s style has changed over the years, so too should her favorite brand.”

Four new flavors—Ginger Lime, Feisty Cherry, Zesty Blood Orange and Twisted Mango—will complement the great taste of Diet Coke, adding variety to the portfolio with new flavors that satisfy adventurous fans’ thirst for bold, dynamic tastes and experiences. These bold offerings— available in sleek cans starting this month—needed an equally bold visual identity.

And that meant turning to fresh thinking. “The opportunity to do something so big early on in my career is amazing,” said Larouere. “I’m lucky to work on a team with leadership that is willing to listen to the voices of a younger generation and to give us a chance to lead. A lot of younger people put in a ton of work on the project and, in some ways, it’s the first sign of proof that the brand is growing up and changing with the times.”

Coca-Cola Design kicked off the brand revamp two years ago, before the new flavor lineup had been set, starting with the Diet Coke known and loved by millions. “We knew we needed to capture a sense of adventure and bring vibrancy and boldness back to the brand,” said Larouere.

The team collaborated with UK-based design studio Kenyon Weston to bring the new identity to life. The two-person shop brought to the table an “unrefined and untainted” perspective, Sommerville said, while Larouere provided guidance on the brand’s heritage and core DNA.

“The marriage of the two, in theory, works well,” Sommerville explained. “If a design project is too internally driven, we can end up talking to ourselves. And if we rely too much on external partners, things can go off the rails quickly. There is beauty in both knowledge and naiveté.”

Larouere, who led design for 2016’s “Share a Coke and a Song” campaign, said her role is to “set a visual identity standard and system for how our brands appear across the many touchpoints people see and interact with”—from retail and experiential, to digital and out-of-home media. “Through design, we help communicate the feeling we want people to have—and the memories we want them to build—when seeing and enjoying our products,” she added.

Anchored by the brand’s iconic silver color, the new Diet Coke look-and-feel has a simplified color pallet focused on silver and red with accents of bold colors to represent the new flavors. And a slightly refined typography simultaneously preserves Diet Coke’s heritage, yet presents it in a more progressive manner. “We simply gave our logo a more modern haircut,” Larouere said.

The refreshed identity also features the “High Line”—a vertical red band that flows through Diet Coke’s packaging and into all static and 3-D communications, from outdoor advertising to social media. The “High Line” aspires to be for Diet Coke what the iconic red disc is to Coca-Cola. “This is a visual asset that can mean different things to different people,” Larouere said. “It’s the graphic equivalent of Diet Coke’s confident, self-driven attitude.”

She’s confident the public will share her passion for Diet Coke’s new path. “I hope new fans will see the brand in a fresh new way and give it a try,” she concluded. “And I hope existing fans will see that our style is changing, just like theirs, but that we’re staying true to who we are.

“My mom loves it… and I’m fairly positive it’s not just because she’s my mom.”

James Sommerville will be keynoting at HOW Design Live 2018 in Boston. I asked James what excited him about speaking at HOW—a main stage on which he’s no stranger to—and he said “I’m very excited and honored to be speaking at HOW Live 2018. Aside from the opportunity to share new work, I know that I will leave Boston totally inspired from all the great design work from so many great designers.” My thought—you should join James and a couple thousand other designers in Boston at HOW Design Live April 30–May 3, 2018. You don’t want to miss it!

Amy Conover is content and program manager, HOW Events and program partner for HOW Design Live. Her passion is creating memorable event experiences that encourage community, where attendees feel validated in their work and empowered to do great things, both personally and professionally. She works across multiple disciplines, partnering with industry influencers, associations, and organizations and creative teams to create and deliver effective and engaging content.

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