How Does Leland Maschmeyer Design the Future?

So what do a yogurt rebrand and the Space Race have in common? Leland Maschmeyer, chief creative officer at Chobani, has the punchline for that one. He spoke at a Design Conversation hosted by Museum of Design Atlanta and Miami Ad School at Portfolio Center. In his talk, Maschmeyer discussed the consequences of translating ideas into actions and provided context on how we build the future we want. The man has a reverence for design and seeks to prove that design is more than the garnish; it is sustenance of an idea that propels our future into reality. Putting design at the forefront means we need to evaluate the paradigms that hold us back from creating healthier work environments and more influential work. So with his permission, I audit his talk and offer some circumstances to consider.

The following article has a two-fold purpose:

  1. Leland Maschmeyer’s perspectives and frameworks on building the future are worth documenting.
  2. There is always an obsession with “what is the future” from every side: client, user, agency. In our rush to get to “the future,” we whiz by pivotal steps including uncomfortable conversations, established frameworks, and awareness of our history. By not picking apart our past and aligning our teams with our present position, we do not build the actual future. We have to think as stakeholders, as employees, and as businesses to co-create progress for our future.


Maschmeyer says:

Reflected in everything from politics to kitchen appliances, the Space Race was omnipresent in American culture. The tension for peace, the intricacy of physics, and the rivalry between nations all shaped the Space Age. 

Mary notes:

The Space Age is such a enthralling time to explore. The period is reflected in cartoons, food, and my personal favorite – buildings.

Seattle needle
The Space Needle in Seattle, Washington.

What is a more grandiose testament to a period than architecture? Expensive and enduring, buildings set the ambience of a landscape for decades. Architecture from the Space Age has the voyageur spirit of Disney’s Tomorrowland. “We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us,” Winston Churchill reflects.

As mediums of design, placemaking and architecture have an astounding impact on one’s mood. The demolishing of architectural terroir in favor of soulless high rises and strip malls was a design mistake the rapid expansion of the Reagan Boom brought on; growing up, I noted that unfortunate trend across the sprawling Southeast United States and tiny Turkish towns. Michael Bond’s case for neuro-architecture argues thoughtful design results in more proactive happier people. Architecture is the literal building of the future (I refrained from so many puns with this take so I’m giving myself props). When the public and their design terroir is a primary stakeholder in the design process, beautiful areas promote personality and enhance moods. Shout out to future-minded HOAs and city planners that have a shared vision and adhere to it.   


Maschmeyer says:

Eventually our future does become the present. There are multiple ways the situation can go, and we must be active in actualizing our vision. Certain forces construct a particular future.

The Knot.

The Knot is a simple structure that organizes complex forces to build future. There are six key parts to understanding a movement; the belief, the means, the want are all connected by symbol, story, and system.

This is the majority of the knot applied to the Space Age.

Recently you might have noticed a Mia Thermapolis level makeover (Mary’s words not Leland’s) with Chobani products. The Chobani brand was missing a cohesive narrative to explain their mission and food.

Chobani Rebrand
Rebrand picture from Brand New.

Chobani wanted to build a future of Universal Wellness, where food was nourishing and fun again. Themes of magic and justice broke through the bucolic imagery of recent food depiction. These themes were translated into design choices that included bespoke typeface reminiscent of fairy tales, the replacement of sterile white plastic for more inviting creamy packaging, and more. You can check out the rest of the full rebrand from Brand New. I speak later about how Universal Wellness translates to business policies.

The Knot-Chobani
The Knot applied to Chobani.

Now, reshining the spotlight back on design. A fundamental place of future building, along with the sciences and the humanities, is the designs.

The Sciences, The Humanities, The Designs
The nature of The Sciences, The Humanities, and The Designs, respectively.

Design is the creation of desirable change.

Mary notes:

In regards to frameworks: When we make a framework our religious scripture, we run the risk of losing critical thought and evaluating important forces. When we revolt against a framework, we might spend a lot of time just reinventing the wheel. I am curious how clients and agencies approach frameworks that dictate their work. Do employees agree to something out loud in occasional meetings and independently do something else? I do believe it is an important piece to agree upon and to revisit as a grounding conversation.

In regards to The Knot: What needs extra emphasis from The Knot is the means. I have a Bachelor’s in advertising and portfolio certificate in brand strategy. In both of those educations, the piece of “means” was often neglected for everything else. Operations and budgets reliably fall to the wayside of a sexy idea. In an interview that asked for a case study, I was unable to produce the means to make my idea translate from the deck to the real world, and this common blindspot creates a dilemma for junior strategists. Note to all mentors and professors to go through determining tactics from research and strategy.

In regards to The DesignsDesign is an active response to fatalism. Unarguably there is chaos in the world. Why not use our smarts to make progress? Squash out tediousness? Have more fun? 


Maschmeyer says:

Maschmeyer can confidently say every future needs corporate sponsors with confidence. Chobani is one of the most ethical companies committed to its employees (including the cows). Great businesses cannot be put on auto-pilot; they need employees to put the human in bold decision making. Businesses are shapers for society, not just mirrors of society. When behemoth brands make decisions, their impact is bigger than a job for an employee or a transaction for the company. 

Leeland Maschmeyer speaking at a Design Conversation.

Mary notes:

Almost all “big” brands are virtue signaling right now. But do the virtues only live in a sizzle reel and “about us” page failing to materialize in that company’s policies? Absolutely.

The state of Michigan and Nestlé both have failed their promise to the general population. Nestlé states on their About Us page, “Nestlé’s purpose is enhancing quality of life and contributing to a healthier future. We want to help shape a better and healthier world. We also want to inspire people to live healthier lives. This is how we contribute to society while ensuring the long-term success of our company.” That sounds so lovely until you realize the state of Michigan has stopped bottle distribution for the lead pipe-infected Flint while allowing Nestlé to pump 500,000 gallons of water per day for $200 near Flint.

So what should we do to have healthier work environments and more influential work:

  1. Let’s be future-minded and inclusive about our design. There is often a difference between the people for whom we design and the culture impacted by our design. We need to get more meta on what and who a stakeholder is. Take a building: the first stakeholders coming to mind are the people paying for a building and the ones occupying it. But what about the other buildings? What about the people constructing the building? What about the people who see the building every day? Marketing focuses on the purchasing audience. However, there always needs to be a broader conversation with all teams including research & development to marketing about the greater impact a product or service will have.
  2. Let’s leave sycophant behavior behind. Maschmeyer emphasized he did not want his title and presence in a room to make others quiet. Unfortunately office culture does not always allow for honest conversation and healthy disagreement. Unanimous agreement through the whole process is seen as the ultimate success, when real success is feeling secure to hash out viewpoints and priorities. Harvard Business Review agrees, “psychological safety allows for moderate risk-taking, speaking your mind, creativity, and sticking your neck out without fear of having it cut off — just the types of behavior that lead to market breakthroughs.” This progress happens top down. Managers need to overfeel how fearful employees might be to step on someone’s toes. We need to open discussion to different viewpoints in an efficient way. Anonymous surveys and more casual conversations are more productive means to getting feedback than open floor meetings that take three hours.
  3. Pick apart history. All moments in history were once an impending future. There are unsavory and niche pieces throughout all timelines that should be acknowledged. The joy of reflecting on something retrospectively is that you do not really need to take a risk to make a decision. You just have to understand how something came to be. The biggest risk is not understanding why we and the forces around us led to our present.

I hope we all can translate these beliefs into designing policies and resolutions that are more ethical, more inclusive and more future-minded.


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