Designing for Global Markets at Kimberly-Clark

By Collin Robisheaux |  June 24, 2021

Diapers, baby wipes, and toilet paper are essential household products that millions of families can’t live without. But how can these products be reimagined after spending decades on store shelves?

Justin Sparks, Global Design Director, Kimberly-Clark

Design — both of packaging and the products themselves — plays a key role in keeping these decades-old staples fresh, says Justin Sparks of Kimberly-Clark. Design updates can also help meet the needs of customers in global markets.

“At our core, [design] is about elevating consumer experiences across our entire brand ecosystem,” says Sparks, Global Design Director of the personal care company that makes Kleenex, Huggies diapers, and Scott toilet paper. “We’re touching everything from strategy, design, product content experience, and then all forms of innovation.”

In a recent interview, Sparks explained the importance of adaptability, how the success of design initiatives are measured, and best practices for creating synergy between design and innovation teams.

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Approaching Design for Global Markets

General hygiene products have a universal demand. To meet the need, Kimberly-Clark provides its products to more than 175 countries and serves diverse populations.

“I have to be a student of global culture. I sit in Chicago, so I cannot have a Chicago bias. I can’t have a Midwest bias. I can’t have a North America bias,” Sparks explains. “I need to really immerse myself in ‘what are the parents in each culture facing? What are the problems? How are they raising babies?’ … I need to immerse myself in the cultural nuances of parenting.”

As an example, Sparks points to Kimberly-Clark’s work in China. In September 2019, he says, the design team hosted a week-long design sprint in China with multiple partners around the globe.

“We created this almost melting pot atmosphere and immersed ourselves for one week, and walked away with a reimagining of the entire portfolio using a lot of our global design best practices – but really appropriate culturally, and incorporating what was going to be appropriate to win in that market,” Sparks says.

Huggies and How Design Success is Measured

A 2021 line of Disney music-themed Pull-Ups. Courtesy of Kimberly-Clark.

Design teams can have significant impacts on the success of a product — touching how the product is marketed, the needs that it addresses, and the design of the product itself. These impacts can be difficult to quantify but important to measure.

Sparks says that Kimberly-Clark puts a heavy emphasis on qualitative feedback.

“Let’s say we’re thinking about the next diaper. My goal would be for…parents [and] current users to actually touch and feel the product, and to listen to them [early],” Sparks says. “With consistent listening [to customer feedback], you’ll hear truths come out when people are holding the product that you don’t always get from quantitative data.”

However, quantitative data also plays a part in determining how well a design shift is meeting its goals. As an example, Sparks referenced a recent design campaign Kimberly-Clark launched for Huggies.

“We recently reinvented our shelf in North America over the course of 2019 into 2020,” Sparks explains. “We brought back our big Huggies iconic masthead — our logo that was big and what made us iconic at the very beginning… So we had to learn quite a bit from consumers early on… and quantitatively say, ‘What’s the purchase intent awareness?’ and a lot of the other typical brand metrics.”

How Commitment to Design Pushes Innovation Forward

At Kimberly-Clark, employees across the organization are encouraged to embrace a design thinking mindset. Sparks says that gathering multiple perspectives on a product’s design helps to keep Kimberly-Clark ahead of the curve.

“I’ll call it a ‘see-think-do’ type of model, where…every person across the organization has an understanding of the core tenants…and are able to participate in solving some of our big problems around the world with brilliant, breakthrough ideas,” Sparks says. “And I’m, as a design leader, really [enlivened] by where the company’s going because of that.”

According to Sparks, as Kimberly-Clark looks to innovate its products to best meet the needs of a global audience, design plays an important role in bringing innovative solutions to life.

“Design makes things real,” Sparks says. “It’s what we’re really good at. Words and ideas on paper, we make them tangible for people…so sometimes we actually are becoming the catalyst for the innovation process to start, based on something that we’ve created that paints a picture for the future. That’s really, really exciting.”