Why corporate America broke up with design

Every company wanted to be Apple. Then reality set in.

In 2005, the future of American business was reflected in the spotless tile behind a toilet bowl. Procter & Gamble had released the Mr. Clean Magic Reach, a sleek tool with a detachable head for scrubbing the darkest recesses of a bathroom. Developed in just 18 months, it represented a strategic move to elevate design throughout P&G, an effort that then CEO A.G. Lafley had spearheaded with an almost religious fervor. “Remember that one of the disciples had to put his hand in the bloody wounds to believe,” he told a reporter at the time, comparing the design skeptics within various divisions of the company to an incredulous apostle. “We have some businesses that are doubting Thomases.” His conviction paid off. P&G’s sales doubled and profits quadrupled between 2000 and 2009, aided by the steady release of new, design-forward products.

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