Professional Development

Facilitating co-creation

Target SVP brings people on board

By Nate Garvis and Tom Wiese
Wednesday, September 28, 2016

It isn’t every day you meet a leader at the SVP level as humble and genuine as Studio/E member and Master Julie Guggemos. Senior vice president of product design and development at Target Corporation, Julie has a demanding job, but in her presence she fully concentrates on you — with no phone in sight. Her artful way of leading has instilled the idea of retailer and guests co-creating products.

Julie started in merchandising in 1990 and joined the PD&D team at Target in 2009. Since then, she has been pivotal in enrolling Target’s guests to co-create its products. She and her team meet the guests where they are and learn about their preferences, pain points and traditions — thereby changing the way Target manufactures its inventory. We talked to Julie about 3D printing, kids’ hands in the design process and the next frontier for Minneapolis’ hometown discount retailer.

Studio/E: How do you find what’s next?
I meet with thought leaders locally and globally. A group of us will travel and will typically meet with companies’ innovation teams and tour their spaces. It exposes us to new projects, ideas and ways of thinking.

Studio/E: How has technology changed the product design iteration process?
3D printing has become really important. With hard products we previously had to prototype many times, and now we’re seeing speed and efficiency because we get the product right the first time. We send that prototype and the technical design to the vendor and they get the sample right on the first round. We’re making fewer samples, spending less money and saving weeks in the process.

Studio/E: How is co-creation new to Target’s design process?
Guests have always been at the center of our process, but the ways we get to them have matured. We learn about problems we can help solve for our guests by having kids’ fairs, developing an app that enables a two-way conversation with guests, and talking to guests in our stores and in their homes. We feel confident in what we develop because it’s been iterated multiple times before we sell it. By the time we get a product to the store, it has the guests’ fingerprints all over it.

Studio/E: What do you learn at the kids’ fairs?
Kids’ imagination and creativity is endless. They come in and interact with our products and tell us what they like and don’t like. We are bringing kids into the design process. They’ve given us the permission to have fun and do the unexpected.

Studio/E: What’s the incentive for guests?
I believe our guests want Target to succeed because we’re an important part of their community and we are committed to doing good. When people are invested in a brand, they develop a love for it. When you invite someone to put their fingerprints on what you’re doing, they have co-ownership of it and they feel a part of it.

Studio/E: Are guests’ expectations changing?
Millennials want to do tasks faster so they have more time for fun and experience. The more that can be automated and the smarter products are, the more Millennials will be interested in them. Millennials are also really health-conscious. Juices are the new accessory. But healthy living is very expensive, so now we’re thinking about how to make healthy choices more accessible.

Studio/E: What’s the next great territory in co-designing?
I believe there will be a day when we’re part of a community that shares ideas, leverages input and really nails products by the local community. Think in terms of a bedding collection. We’d design the shell and provide the fabric and sourcing, and someone in Miami would tell us about some great patterns specific for their region. We’d put their designs on our bedding and become a part of their community. By inviting guests into the process, it makes us better for their communities.

Studio/E: What advice do you have for making a valuable product?
1. The key to a successful product is to understand the unmet needs of your customer and listen really hard for unarticulated needs.
2. Anyone can co-create with their consumer. Observe them and ask them questions. Paradigms, tradition and history all play into why we might develop something a certain way, and we learn these by asking.
3. Embrace technology and remember that efficiency has become a macro-trend.


Nate Garvis and Tom Wiese are founding partners of Studio/E. They are both Senior Fellows at the Lewis Institute’s Social Innovation Lab at Babson College, as well as co-owners of Earn Influence, a consulting firm that helps its cool clients profitably travel into the unknown with clarity and confidence.