What was once thought of as pure fantasy is no longer a far-fetched idea: humans inhabiting other planets and bodies in space. NASA is running a design competition for houses that could be 3D printed on Mars. Elon Musk’s SpaceX promises to take tourists on private trips to the moon in the near future. It’s just a matter of time before brands get involved as part of a new “space race.” Nike designing the hottest space suits? Kraft Heinz creating space food? In this episode, SLD’s Executive Vice President of Design and Innovation, Richard Dirstein, discusses whether or not brands should start planning their expansion to outer space, and what that future might look like.
Melinda: Hi, I’m Melinda from SLD, and you’re listening to “Think Retail.” Today, we’ll be talking to Richard Dirstein about who will be the first brand on the moon.
What was once thought of as pure fantasy is no longer such a far-fetched idea, humans inhabiting other planets and bodies in space. NASA is running a design competition for houses that could be 3D printed on Mars. Elon Musk’s SpaceX promises to take tourists on private trips to the moon in the near future. It’s just a matter of time before brands get involved as part of this new space race. Nike designing the hottest space suits, Kraft Heinz creating space food? In this episode, SLD’s Executive VP of Design & Innovation, Richard Dirstein, discusses whether or not brands should start planning their expansion to outer space, and what that future might look like. Welcome, Richard. How are you?
Richard: I’m great. Thank you.
Melinda: Thanks for being here.
Richard: This is awesome. This is a great forum that you’ve got going here, so I’m excited about these questions.
Melinda: Can you start off by just telling us a bit about yourself?
Richard: I’ve been with the company about 21, 22 years. I head up our creative teams here. So I’ve got interior design teams, graphic design teams, digital teams, production teams, and general design experience teams. I come from a background…a lot of brand experience over the years, and working with some really great brands here at Shikatani Lacroix. But I’ve kind of evolved over the years from not really being tied to brands to being very immersed and very passionate about the brands that I love. So I find this topic, this question that we have today, to be really exciting, and I think it’s going to have some great conversation behind it.
Melinda: Absolutely. I think so, too. So there are a number of people, including the famous astronaut Chris Hadfield, who believe the next step in space exploration is to build a kind of base camp on the moon. So this would be where people are living, and from there exploring other regions of space. So how do you imagine brands starting to think about integrating into that kind of environment?
Richard: Yeah, and that’s a great question. It can be asked in so many different ways. I think one of the directions I was thinking about was if you were going to go into space and you could only take one brand, what would that be? And it raises those questions around we as consumers, those products and those brands that we use as comfort brands. So our business is all about emotionally connecting brands to customers, and we do that through packaging design. We do it through experience design. We do it through interior design. So we really look at it from that emotional point of view, because we believe that you can affect impulse easier emotionally than you can rationally. And what that means basically is if you can make somebody feel happy, or sad…it’s why we go to movies. If you can engage them emotionally, you’ll connect with them quicker. You can influence decision quicker over someone who’s trying to rationally justify the best price or the most functional product. So in that sense, I will start the question and start my thinking and my answer around the fact that… I’ll put aside NASA, because we know that’s probably how we’re going to get to the moon. I’ll put away some of those functional things like food and water, generally speaking, because we’ll assume that a lot of that product is already there, and all of those brands are there.
But getting to this kind of emotional wantrather than a pragmatic needof being on the moon. There are question’s around “What would be that one brand?” If you could only choose one to go to the moon, or even to a desert island, we’ve all probably thought about a great record or a great product that we want to take with us, what would it be? So, what is that one brand that best represents you, or a brand that you can’t do without? From a branding standpoint, our brands often build on our values and our dreams of how we work and how we play. Being so isolated in space is really going to impact your selection and your choice. You don’t have a network to… maybe you buy a great t-shirt or a great bracelet, you’re not going to have an adoring audience that you can walk down the street at 3:00 on a sunny afternoon and show everybody. You’re going to be much more limited in terms of that exposure. And if that’s important to you and why you like that brand, you may not have that. We’re going to look to things that allow us to have an extension of the experience we have here on Earth. So, emotionally, I love my morning coffee. I love my favorite pair of jeans. I love my certain social media feeds or platforms. And I love my technology and how I stay connected. So, what is going to be that one thing that you’re going to want to take? Is it tech? Is it bottled water, coffee, comfortable shoes? I mean, really, that’s what the question becomes.
Melinda: Right, right. So, I mean, it may seem a little bit out there. If I’m a brand and I’m just trying to deal with, you know, the next quarter or the next year or launching this new product, why should I start thinking about things like the moon?
Richard: They say space is the new frontier. I mean, it’s the old frontier, so I guess what’s old is new again. It’s always there. They say it’s relatively infinite, so it is truly a place that I think we will, as global resources and space becomes limited, it’ll be somewhere that we will very quickly eye and move into. But again, it has a whole variety of parameters that have to be overcome. Isolation is probably going to be the biggest one. Being in smaller communities, but you’re still relatively isolated from the bigger planet, how will that affect a brand’s value, and will it be diminished in a smaller ecosystem? Again, my analogy earlier, less people to see you wearing it, if that’s important to you. Less affirmation, in terms of your immediate circle around you. From an environmental standpoint, the environment is much more rugged and much more dangerous.
You’re going to have issues around supply chain. You’re going to have issues of lack of space. And that can be habitable space. It can be hospitable storage. The moon is a rugged environment. Product life cycle and renewal, how are we getting the product to you? How does it live in that environment? And then how is it being reclaimed and recirculated back into fresh product? What are going to be the micro trends that exist in this environment, and what are the influences that are shaping those trends in this remote and more isolated environment? So I think everything in this environment will have to be subject to a lot more planning than it probably would be on Earth. Nobody’s going to put on a pair of running shoes in 30 seconds and walk out their front door. They’re going to have to put their shoes on. They’re going to have to get inside a space suit. They’re probably going to have to get permission to open the air lock. They’re going to have to make sure that it’s not nighttime. So I think a lot of these things that a brand would take for granted on Earth in a normal gravity environment are going to be much different and planned for much differently in space.
Melinda: Even if you’re not planning on executing it even in the next 10 years, what is the benefit to brands in terms of getting involved in that kind of thinking? And even if it’s just, like, sort of a fun project that they send a team on to sort of imagine, “Develop three products that we could launch for space,” what is the value of that kind of thinking for a brand?
Richard: It’s a great question. The immediate parallels that came to mind are… Looking at the moon being so far away and so remote, the challenges that we have on Earth, right now, right today, are very much in line with this. And, I mean, you can look at things like we have dense population hubs and limited space. I mean, again, in a lunar environment, you’re going to have very dense areas of living with relatively less space in order to store and have those things that are meaningful to you. There’s going to be this ongoing desire as we have here for getting fresh food and ensuring that we’re not paying an exorbitant amount of dollars to get this. We have limited number of resources here on Earth. We have the same challenges as we go into space.
Sustainability, carbon footprint, these all flow into the same areas that we’re dealing with product on Earth as we would on the moon. So, I mean, we don’t have to look that far away in order to kind of make these ties and start getting this thinking going. In the same respect, we can also leverage a lot of those things that are working so well on Earth. What is the role of community and common interest as we look at products that will survive? As we see changes in climate… and again, our climate is becoming much more hostile. We’re seeing dramatic weather changes. Preparedness and storage of key products, and resources, and those comfort brands that we look to, what will that look like? So I think there’s a lot of great thinking and elements that we can leverage today. In order to survive in this future state, you’re really going to have to look at how your brand is consistently delivered here today on Earth and then what and how will that consistency of execution be interrupted or changed on that moon, or that lunar environment. So there’s some great practices that we can leverage in today’s market.
Melinda: So one of the things that I like about this idea is just thinking about something that’s really unknown and trying to challenge your thinking. You know, say I’m Nike and I make running shoes, well, if there’s not much gravity, then that’s going to change the type of running shoe that I’m going to need. Do you think that it’s going to be an exciting challenge for brands to innovate, or do you think that they’re going to be sort of reluctant to get involved? Where do you see that falling?
Richard: Yeah, I think it’s an opportunity, always an opportunity. One of the biggest barriers that we have here around us today is gravity. So the comment that you’re making about a running shoe, the only reason why we put them only on our feet is because that’s where we deal with gravity, on our feet. But you could imagine in, again, a lunar environment, it might be quicker rather than running to just tumble, or jump into the air and roll. So, I mean, what does a running shoe look like that is on our feet, on our shoulders, on our hands? Can we roll into a ball and that’s how we get around the planet? I’m just dreaming here.
Melinda: I have a great image of, like, the pandas rolling, you know, how they roll down the hills.
Richard: I mean, you can look at that in the same respect. To open a bottle of soda, or water for that matter, will have its challenges. Does the hydration system become something that’s integrated within your clothing? And not only what you’re drinking, but are you in a process of recapturing that liquid? Not unlike what common day space suits would have. But the sustainability and the kind of, again, the carbon footprint of these products, their product life cycle, will become very, very important and very meaningful. Not just from a dollar standpoint, but I think from an ethical standpoint. You’re seeing it here on Earth. We want to have, and people are gravitating to, sustainable products, products that stand for something. So I think on the moon we’ll be even more challenged to have products that really not just deliver a great emotional connection, but also stand for those things that we really think are important as we look to the future.
Melinda: Do you think that if we’re doing that kind of innovation, thinking about it being in that environment, will it kind of become cool on Earth to imitate the moon?
Richard: There’s a lot of great practices where you put a lot of constraints on yourself. And within that heavy constraint, you’re able to have infinite innovation. If I just said, “Think of something that hasn’t been done,” it’s very hard. But if I say, “Try and fit something in this small box,” immediately your brain starts working in a different way. I think the parameters of the lunar environment will allow us to really test ourselves and really innovate quickly, because we have those parameters. The ultimate success would be, “How do we bring that back to Earth and hopefully save, or enrich, or sustain this great planet, not just, again, from a packaging or a brand standpoint, but culturally as well?”
Melinda: We’re talking about planning for things that, really, they’re largely unknown. There are so many factors that we… Okay, we know there’s, you know, 10% gravity, and we can know how cold it is, and we can know certain factors. But until you’ve actually been on the moon, I’m imagining there’s a lot of things that you can’t really understand. How can brands plan for things that are completely unknown?
Richard: I would look to the things that we know already, right? So the biggest challenge is beyond the actual space. And, I mean, not just outer space, but space constraints and physical challenges will be the emotional ones. If you’ve ever traveled away from home for any period of time, you long for certain things. It can be a pizza slice. It can be the water out of your tap. What are those things that are going to allow someone to emotionally get through what they need to get through? And what will they look to for comfort and stability if it reminds them of Earth, or their family, or their community, or their culture? So, we will always have that challenge. I truly believe we will always have that challenge, even within the opportunity of starting and developing new products and new brands around that existence. I think it’s important for brands to constantly understand how they can drive relevance and future relevance around their product to understand what is meaningful.
Having your favorite sports car on the moon is great. But if it takes, 45 minutes to an hour of planning to drive 2 or 3 miles or kilometers, is it really relevant? Being able to have freeze-dried coffee every day, because it’s easy to store a sugar cube sized dehydrated coffee pellet and then hydrate it as I need it, that’s a lot more approachable, and a lot easier, and a lot more relevant. Because I can have something, instead of it being a drive every two weeks around the lunar surface, I can maybe go and have a coffee every day. So I think consumers will have those trade-offs around frequency and relevancy. And truly, things will have to be weighed. Do they want to occupy the major portion of their living space with something that makes them feel like they’re at home, or can they get by with something smaller and lighter? Again, brands like a lot of mobile platforms and social media platforms. They deliver quite a bit in a very small package. And they can really deliver that community feeling and deliver that online shopping feeling, and immersion feeling by way of entertainment and content. So it’s exciting to see how, even from a product standpoint, here on Earth we’re evolving very quickly. What opportunities will the moon give us in that respect?
Melinda: Yeah, while we were planning this, I saw an ad, Morgan Stanley trying to get investors to put their money into the space economy. And they’re predicting that by 2040, the revenues from the space economy will be $1.4 trillion. So there’s huge, huge money there. It’s an interesting thing to think about. So now I want to ask you, and we’re going to put up a poll about this, “Which brand do you think will be the first to make their mark in space?”
Richard: That’s a great question and one I thought would be a lot easier to answer. And even now after having our conversation earlier today and having some time to think a little bit about it, I find myself struggling. I certainly love my technology. And by that, I mean my mobile devices that I use. And I won’t mention names. But they, I find, are the one thing that as I travel globally, on this planet, that allow me to stay connected, allow me to have that great emotional experience that I have, and not feel so isolated. Again, I think this is a really introspective question for everyone to answer. So I’m really excited to see the responses you get. But close your eyes: you can take one thing with you, and what would it be and why? And there’s no right or wrong answer, but it really forces you to look at something that you want versus something that you need and weigh the balances between the two. It’s a great thought process.
Melinda: Great. I think that’s a great place to end. And we’ll think of a few brands to put in our poll, but you can also comment and add any brand that we didn’t include. We would love to hear what people think, what you would want to take to space. Thanks for this interesting conversation. I hope that people find it stimulating.
Richard: Yeah, great. Thank you. Thanks for the time.
Melinda: While we were in the process of recording this podcast, someone shared an article with me that drove home why this topic is really relevant. Both Nike and Boeing are paying science fiction writers to help them predict what the future will hold. Whether or not brands are going to be on the moon tomorrow, stretching our thinking is what leads to innovation and to a deeper understanding of the true value of a product or service. So how can you make your brand more innovative? One way would be to collaborate with innovative thinkers, whether that be science fiction writers, AI scientists, or leading design thinkers. You can bring them in for lunch-and-learn sessions for your team or collaborate with them on large projects. Either way, it’s important to know what leading ideas are out there.
Another is to invest in a future-proofing program, most often conducted by a strategic agency, to look at how 5, 10, 20 years out, your industry may change. We recently did this for a large food brand, and some of the issues we explored in depth were things like climate change, artificial intelligence, politics, and how that will impact their business in the next 20 years. A third way to become more innovative is to invest in your employees, in training in cross-functional collaboration, and to empower everyone in your organization to contribute their ideas. Sometimes a great idea can come from an unexpected place, and that’s something we really believe in at SLD. So now, we’re going to turn things over to you and find out what brand you think will be the first to make their mark in space. Will it be Apple, Amazon, McDonald’s, or Nike? Or maybe you think there’s another brand that will get there first. We’d love to find out what you think, and we hope you will join us again on your next commute.
Richard Dirstein leads the Shikatani Lacroix Design creative vision and produces results that flawlessly integrate with all aspects of a client’s business and design strategy.
Think Retail is a podcast where top designers, strategists, thought leaders and business people discuss what’s coming next. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.