Design Today: 10 Questions with Honest Company
by Grant Van Sant on 04/20/2015 | 5 Minute Read
Interviewer: Grant Van Sant
Interviewee: Christopher Gavigan, Co-founder and Chief Product Officer &
Tim Hankins, Director of Creative Services
How does sustainability relate to your overall business strategy and company values at Honest?
Christopher: The Honest Company is all about creating exceptional products that seek to make the world a greater place: safe, healthy, delightful, and happy for all. As a social enterprise, we’re on a mission to set a new set of standards for our products with the goal of reducing the ubiquitous presence of toxic chemicals in, on, and around people. Through our passion to educate people on this topic, we work to instill a deeper understanding about the chemical threats that exist in the marketplace today. Ultimately, our commitment to a future of sustainability and environmental health is built into the DNA of The Honest Company and through our work we hope to serve as an example for people and other businesses.
What is your design process?
Tim: We like to use inspiration boards for a lot of projects. They become launching pads for where our ideas can go. We don’t put any limitations on where inspiration can come from. We look at competitors to see where we can break from existing ideas. We also tend to not even pay attention to what others are doing so we can truly be unique in our approach. I also like to look at product categories that we’re not in for inspiration. There are some really amazing things going on in design in the world of pet food.
What is the role sustainability plays in your design process? What are some of the challenges this adds?
Christopher: Sustainability in design is about creating beautiful, delightful products with steadfast integrity. Honest is committed to fanatically upholding chemical standards, implementing the latest scientific data, and embracing plant-based innovations in our products. As a leader in sustainability, we must uphold our continual quest to improve, acknowledging areas that need further refinement as we seek out the best solutions in sourcing raw materials and finding responsible partners that can meet social justice and fair trade practices. Looking harder and going further on these product development and innovations takes commitment, resources, and time. But as a mission-driven business, it is an investment we are willing to make at The Honest Company.
What is your design philosophy at Honest?
Tim: My design philosophy basically comes down to one phrase: you have to fail in order to learn. If you get it right the first time out, what have you learned? Nothing. You haven’t learned what doesn’t work and why, you only know what “works” right now. You can gain extremely useful knowledge through failure. You’ll only grow when you can apply the information you’ve learned from experimentation and failure.
What is your product development process and how does sustainability play a role?
Christopher: Product development is a process that is quite organic and fluid at Honest. As parents (collectively the 4 founders have 10 children under age 8), we started the company building the first products that met our own needs. Yet it's the incredible value and genuine relationships we have with our Honest members that drive product initiative forward. We are talking to thousands everyday (calling directly into our headquarters here in Santa Monica), and our Product Team harvests that rich data and insights to fill our product pipeline. Like us, our members are super attentive to the little things, and these details drive elegant differentiation of our products - especially around top performance and delightful design. And the commitment to sustainable products and ecological integrity is that layer that can allow, or sometimes prevent, products coming to market.
Where do you find design inspiration?
Tim: I find inspiration through the lens of a camera. It forces me to look at the world from a new angle or perspective. It doesn’t matter what I’m looking at, as soon as I look at it through a camera’s lens something in my mind shifts. It inspires me to look at my work from a different angle whenever and wherever I can. What can be done differently? Can I explain this better? Is there a better approach to this idea?
How does the nature of the product drive design?
Christopher: When I think about the product, I don't think in inanimate terms. Instead, I see it as a living thing used to enhance life's experience. It must support health, life, and happiness. Design supports these intimate moments, highlighting why this product should be invited in one's life.
What do you consider a sustainable design?
Tim: The most sustainable designs to me are ones that get used for a purpose other than what they were originally intended. I’ve seen things like people turning our laundry detergent bottles into watering cans or our shipping boxes into intricate playsets for their children. If you’ve designed something that someone has then taken the time to deconstruct and use in an entirely new way then I think you’re doing your job right. One, it means that someone likes your design enough to keep it around longer, and two, it means that it doesn’t immediately get thrown away and gains a new life.
What is exciting you about the future of sustainability at Honest?
Christopher: Our Honest position on true chemical policy reform and "chemical safety" is critically important. Thanks to consumer demand, the market for safer products without harmful chemicals is among the fastest growing segments in today's economy. Honest is investing resources to support better legislation (through the American Sustainable Business Council and Safer Chemical Healthy Families). It will take a ton of effort and visionary leadership, but it would be tremendous if Congress were to adopt new chemical safety rules that take giant leaps forward (equivalent to REACH in the EU) in protecting all children and families from toxic threats.
If you can give one piece of advice to a prospective designer what would it be?
Tim: Keep learning. You don’t know everything. If you did, your job & life would be incredibly boring so stay thirsty for knowledge. Get outside of your comfort zone and learn a new skill. Fail miserably at that new skill, but don’t quit. Keep at it. If you think you know everything, you’re fooling yourself. Also? Be nice.
Interviewer: Grant Van Sant
Editor at Large, The Dieline
Grant is the co-founder of the multi-disciplinary design studio OSSO based in Los Angeles.
He has worked as a brand strategist on both the client and agency side. He has done design and video work for Nike,IBM, and has advised numerous startups. Grant has written for Huffington Post, Business of Fashion, and Cultural Capital.
Stay up to date with Grant's latest projects at Osso, Instagram, and Twitter.