Design democratization successes from Coca-Cola Freestyle to LEGO Alternate Builds

Estimated reading time
5 minutes
4th May 2022
Author: Ollie Taylor
Posted in: Content Operations, Content Production, Personalization, Psychology & Science, The Turtl Product

In most industries, design is left to those with specialized skills, training, or a certain way of thinking – areas like architecture or content creation. But some companies have successfully flipped this principle and opened the doors of design to everyone brave enough to have a go.


Why is design democratization gaining popularity?

The core concept underpinning the democratization of design is to allow greater control over the operation and appearance of certain features of your product by the people that you made it for – the customer.

But there’s a balance to be struck. On a fundamental level, the principles of good design are indispensable. Great design ensures our cities are easy to live in, our art is nice to look at, and our websites are logical to use. Designing any of these can also be big business. Opening the floodgates to amateurs and enthusiasts can therefore seem daunting. 

But democratization presents a completely different route to achieving successful design, one that doesn’t mean involving traditional design specialists. And there’s no need to worry about whether the appetite is there. People are willing to have a go.

Design democratization is, in essence, one of the principles that contributes to the continued popularity of LEGO. Former LEGO owner Godtfred Kirk Christiansen attributed the brand’s success to its link to “imagination and developing the creative urge and joy of creation that are the driving force in every human being”.

All of us have the ingrained urge to design.

a group building lego which is an example of design democratization

Finding a marketplace of ideas

The desire to design can be a pull factor in itself. Opportunities to leave your mark can bring users flocking. If these users are paying customers, then drawing them in is an attractive prospect in itself. But democratizing design has much more to offer you than just increasing revenue, as Coca-Cola found out. 

About a decade ago, Coca-Cola discovered a problem. US consumers were becoming unsatisfied with the limited drink choices available when they went out. Consumers wanted more variety from dispensers and vending machines than was being provided at the time. What the company didn’t foresee was exactly how much appetite for variety there would be … 

“We initially thought it might be 20 or 30 different drinks,” a Coca-Cola executive told Marketing Week magazine. “The research came back and told us it was more like 100! Our customers wanted to play, to make their own drinks.”

Coca-Cola’s response was to innovate, and roll out a new kind of vending machine called the Freestyle; serving up to 165 different Coca-Cola branded drinks. More importantly, the Freestyle offered the opportunity for boundless combinations of all these drink options. The Freestyle let customers create “new” soft drinks limitlessly. If a consumer wanted to, they could combine twelve different flavors of Sprite.

Now Coca-Cola can test new products with the Freestyle by looking at what consumers are creating for themselves. Certain flavor blends that become popular in a region may become a new product, which can launch quickly, cheaply, and with consumer feedback at its origin.

coca-cola themed bench

The numbers demand personalized experiences

Coke consumers all over the US now use the Freestyle to mix products and invent their own drinks, coming back time and time again to either remake their favorite combination or try something completely new.

Then, by encouraging users to share their Freestyle “creation” via the app, others can discover and appreciate new drink combinations. Now each user’s personal creation is recognizably theirs.

It is important not to underestimate the importance of personalization. A study carried out by McKinsey & Company suggests that personalization has come to be expected, with 71% of consumers expecting companies to deliver personalization, and an even higher 76% getting frustrated when this personalization doesn’t occur. 

75% of companies say they provide good or excellent personalized services. But only 48% of customers think companies provide good or excellent personalized services.
– Twilio’s State of Customer Engagement Report, 2022

A separate study by McKinsey & Company shows that added personalization can increase the efficiency of marketing spending by between 10-30%.

That’s why Turtl offers easy personalization at scale, enabling users to meet these consumer expectations, improve brand reputation, and drive performance all while democratizing design within teams. Curious readers can find more about the benefits of personalization and how Turtl allows for personalization at scale here.

Team sharing ideas on sticky notes as an example of design democratization

Valuable data gained from democratized design

The Freestyle saved Coca-Cola time, fast-tracking both product development and data collection of consumer preferences. This data drives product design and leads to improved customer satisfaction.

We can see this unique feedback model in LEGO as well. Through the popularity of “alternate build”, the brand saw a way to avoid stagnation and involve their community. Initially, they began offering products that had multiple build options, seeing the demand from their fans.

The biggest change came in 2011, when LEGO began allowing its audience to design and pitch new ideas for the company to create. LEGO Ideas offers fresh concepts, instant feedback, and audience engagement in brand campaigns which is ground-breaking and invaluable to businesses.

Using this same principle, Turtl allows users to access meaningful customer data and link relevant content to integration tech tools like HubSpot or Marketo. The analytics dashboard that is built into every Turtl document lays out which pages and widgets readers engage with most. Real-time feedback like this is essential to informing potential edits and noting business successes or areas for improvement. 

Turtl analytics from personalized content which is democratically designed

Design isn’t for everyone, and that’s fine!

The business models of Coca-Cola and LEGO rely on balancing consumer control of design while sticking to brand.

Classic” is still Coca-Cola’s best-selling product, and the gulf in revenue generated by their established flavors and those created with the Freestyle machine is huge. 

Similarly, “sets” (boxes of bricks sold with instructions for specific designs) have been LEGO’s main products for a long time. The “alternate build” movement, which sees LEGO enthusiasts selling alternative construction ideas for popular LEGO sets online, is still a relatively small sub-market. 

Democratizing design and encouraging modular use allows companies like Coca-Cola and LEGO to appeal to any type of customer. Turtl has explored the efficiency of modular content production before, so you can read all about the benefits in our blog post

Importantly, brands successful in design democratization are not offering blank-canvas design opportunities. The offered creativity feels limitless, and the design possibilities are still massive, but they are within the confines laid out by both companies.

While the Freestyle machine allows for thousands of combinations, customers can’t mess with the base ingredients which are only Coca-Cola’s existing products. The same goes for LEGO – the only creation option is to use the blocks manufactured by their brand. 

Turtl operates with the same principle; when users design content in Turtl, they have plenty of easy-to-use formatting options and creativity enablements. Despite control over the look and contents of the document, users cannot override their brand guidelines like fonts and colors.

Plus, none of the democratized design options that are built into Turtl operate at the expense of the psychologically engrained benefits that Turtl has developed to maintain readers’ attention.

Experience democratized design through personalization by taking our content personality quiz below ⤵️👀

Link to Turtl's content personality type quiz

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