The D Profile #1
esign with a capital
Kerensa Neale is one of the many “compatible talents” recruited by Decathlon in 2020 to manage a large-scale department, as with Jérôme Dubreuil and Sébastien Magoutier in the IT field. Now heading up Decathlon's Design team, Kerensa tells us why she chose to join the brand last year...
KN : My first reaction was: “What? Me? Decathlon’s Artistic Director?” I was really intrigued, actually. I was already familiar with Decathlon's various brands, but I was pretty impressed that Decathlon, THE Decathlon, wanted to go in this direction. I jumped at the idea straight away. I had spent my career at brands like Adidas, Nike and Asics, but what I love about Decathlon is its focus on spreading the word about sport, and this determination to make it genuinely accessible to all; not just affordable but accessible in a philosophical and practical way. When you go to Decathlon to buy an archery set, you could easily come out with a scooter or a badminton racket! My son, for example, goes for judo gear every time, then finds loads of other products. The result? Tons of Decathlon products at home! Going to the store is this brilliant moment where you think to yourself: “Ok, I came in for this, but actually what I really want is that!” My latest “must-have”? A stand-up paddleboard or an Itiwit kayak. I chatted to one of the product engineers about these, and he made me want one. I thought: my life could change completely if I had one of these.
KN : I am currently writing my “job description”, and it’s starting to take shape! I hope to bring together Decathlon’s creative community, which has been disseminated through our Signed Sports (own brands) structure. The creative community is the beating heart of imagination and everything we sell, primarily products, but experiences too. This creative community must be close-knit one. I would like our designers to get up every morning saying: “I design for Decathlon, and it’s brilliant.” This pride, which exists already but needs reinforcing, is directly linked to the brand itself. I’m talking here about “brand heat, brand value”, to boost brand image. With my teams, I will be working on two main axes : a strategic axis “to forge and communicate the brand” as well as an operational axis, developed in conjunction with “Signed Sports”, Decathlon’s very own brands, that is to say.
KN : This brings us back to identity. It represents the Decathlon brand, as well as its raison d’être. This D is starting to appear on our products. In 2021, 30% of our products will feature this new logo, rising to 60% in 2022 and 100% in 2023. This D will be like our surname, with the brand name as our first name.
KN : For me, “One Brand” means “One Voice”: a communication platform that would relate the achievements by Decathlon teams, who are not always visible enough. For example, we – Decathlon – launched an extraordinary bike model: the Triban Gravel 900 in titanium. On my LinkedIn page, I wanted to draw attention to this magnificent item that was helping to spread the word of sport, as I mentioned earlier. I couldn’t find any comms on the subject, even though we'd brought out the brand’s first titanium bike that was extremely highly rated by all specialist magazines. Others write about us, and that’s all great, but it’s up to us to tell our own story!
KN : Style is the representation of the brand values and functionality, which could be that of Signed Sports, overseen by Decathlon. Today, when we see a runner or jogger, we might think: “Wow, that’s really cool, I wonder if this is Decathlon!” Why this instinctive reaction? Because the public knows that we design great products, and customers love them. But we still need to be more visible. Style isn’t just pixie dust, you can’t sprinkle it over products to make it look great. That’s not how it works. We're making great progress, we have incredibly talented teams and with the right tools, I have no doubt that the Decathlon style of the future will lead us far. The magical promise of each one of our own brands will materialise and shine a light on the Decathlon constellation of sports performance products and experiences, all conceived through the lense of Eco-design. We must not look for a single aesthetics, but rather what makes up our own style.
While so far we have not managed to depict this whole sky of innovation and design, and make it more visible, our products are already pretty magical. At Decathlon, the list of incredible innovations is almost infinite when our Signed Sports are this ingenious, but basically it’s up to us to tell a better story and share this magic globally.
KN : Decathlon has to learn to say what it stands for, by telling its story and sharing its heritage. All of these brands have an archive department. We don’t have one at Decathlon, who has yet to start its own story-telling.
The DNA of the aforementioned three brands is strongly rooted in their heritage, their journeys and their successes – as well as their mistakes. So, what do Decathlon’s wrinkles look like? This is vital if we are to develop a style of our own, which is everything the brand represents, including its past. This is the point that Decathlon can learn from the brands we’ve mentioned. The other point is to spell out what pride means. I feel that there is a sense of pride, and that we need to know how to tease it out. The amazing things we do internally should be shared and voiced out.
KN : We’ll be having three teams in one, for which I will be responsible. Firstly, a team called “creative direction”, tasked with looking at trends, colours, graphics and components. We’re in the process of recruiting an external person to lead these component areas on a creative level. Then, a different team will determine the deep-rooted DNA of our brand, so as to develop Decathlon Design. This may well result in a design “bible”, a likely small book but one on every creative’s shelf, to shore up the intangible assets of Decathlon products. The third team will be an exploratory one, called “advanced design”. It will spend its time pre-empting social trends and technologies that are currently not possible to envisage. This type of work encourages us to dream and constantly push ahead, giving us a direction to follow. Lastly, we will have an extremely important unit: our “mates” ambassadors, who will talk about what we’re doing and provide rich and connected storytelling to help us connect in the most genuine way with our sports users and customers.
KN : They are users of our products that represent the brand's soul, telling their stories and, therefore, ours too. They will take us by the hand and show us the stars, show us their own amazing corner of their pitch or playground, so we can explore and learn about possibilities that might otherwise be invisible to us. We will also have a “trends and market research” team. Our “mates'' will help us with consumer insight, but we also need to constantly be aware of the latest trends and markets, with antennae in key cities worldwide, so that we become the genuine global and international brand that we are, rather than one solely focusing on Lille. Lastly, we intend to establish a university of design excellence, in order to re-build the creative community, where those who express an interest in learning about eco-design, 3D design, and so on, are able to do so.
KN : I wear trainers every day. I have to say that the Kalenji Revivals are my favourite. I wear them loads. When I’m not working, I often wear a hoodie at home. Starever, our Signed Sport dedicated to Dance, made an instant impression on me and I bagged their products early on. That is an example of what I call Design, Capital D.