SpearTalks: Method's Danny Alexander
You can look at it one of two ways: Method was ahead of their time, or right on time. I tend to lean towards the former, because with a clear mission, a clear conscious, and a clearly obsessive attitude towards branding and design, the environmentally amicable cleaning products were progressive in nearly every way. They didn't smell like future bouts with cancer, they didn't scream "Earth Mother," and — whaddaya know — they worked. Additionally, were one to “absentmindedly” leave ones cleaning products out, maybe in effort to say, "That's right, I clean, and I'm so eco.” and “How jealous are you of my supreme perfection," it suddenly seemed kind of sexy to do so. Rain drop-shaped, Sweet Water-scented sexy.
We love Method for their environmentally responsible approach, their non-gag inducing aromas, and their effectiveness. But most of all, we love them for making us feel good about buying them. We wanted to share our love with Danny Alexander, an industrial designer at Method, but he seemed apprehensive about letting us stick our tongues down his throat (obsessively clean, Danny?). So we just settled for a heart-to-heart.
Joshspear.com: You came to Method as an environmentally friendly furniture designer out of NYC. What else in your past laid the groundwork for where you find yourself today?
Danny Alexander: Growing up I always loved to create. Whether it was origami, painting, assembling furniture, etc., I was always working with my hands. When I grew up a bit, I began to think that industrial design was the perfect combination of left brain and right brain thinking, but the thought of creating more junk to fill landfills weighed seriously on my conscience. My parents, who have both spent their lives working in social service fields, taught me at an early age to leave a positive mark on the world. So I set out on developing a career in sustainable design.
In New York I worked as a furniture designer, creating pieces in bamboo, sustainably harvested wood, non-toxic finishes, flatpack designs and all that jazz. But I grew tired of designing for only the wealthiest of the wealthy. If sustainable design is to be truly sustainable it needs to be accessible to the masses. So I came to San Francisco and started designing soap.
JS: You've been at Method for over a year now — what have you been up to over there?
DA: Well, my career at Method started in the toilet — literally. Lil Bowl Blu, our planet-friendly toilet cleaner, was one of the first projects I worked on at method. And in the year and change that I’ve been here, I’ve worked on countless others, including the bamboo omop packaging, the new cleaning wipes pouch, a handful of aircare products, and tons of conceptual projects we’ve been kicking around. Oh, and I’ve been working on my ping pong game pretty seriously.
JS: Method, in my book, is one of the most vivid lines of product the US has right now. It has the emotional connect, the distinct voice and personality, those hunkish good-looks… what else do you see as significant in terms of what Method represents as a brand?
Perhaps most significant is the idea that Method represents the future of sustainable business. For too long, people have been forced to accept major compromises in performance and price to buy environmentally-friendly products. Method has turned this idea on its head, showing people that sustainability can come without compromise, and that sustainable products can actually perform just as well, if not better, than other products at little-to-no premium. The emotional connection, voice and personality of the brand generally stem from the “style” part of our “style and substance” mantra, but the sustainability bit is just as important and exciting to me.
JS: This is what blows my mind: Basically, all cleaning product companies use industrial designers, yet Method's products are some of the only ones that can easily be associated with the word "design." Why do you think this is?
DA: A lot of this stems from Method’s unique corporate culture that encourages innovation (I hate that word, but it’ll have to do for now) and risk taking. From the beginning, Method has had an underdog mentality that’s allowed us to be more willing to take leaps of faith and innovate. We’ve built the company and our products around five distinct pillars: health, sustainability, design, fragrance, and efficacy, and we weigh them all equally. Even as we grow larger and more profitable, we continue to take risks. It would be difficult, if not impossible, for most of our competitors to shift focus and take the risks that we do.
JS: What is the typical process that your team goes through while coming up with new packaging concepts?
DA: Every product comes to fruition a bit differently. The common themes that run throughout our development processes are speed and collaboration. A product often starts as a napkin sketch or a hot-glued prototype, and thanks to an incredibly talented group of people (we’ve got pretty much everything and everyone we need in-house, from chemists and engineers to a rapid prototyping machine and a beer-fridge for inspiration), we’re able to get these wacky ideas to market quickly. The entire development timeline, from sketch to shelf, is often under a year. Open, clear communication is essential to this process.
JS: I almost lost it the first time I saw that little green apple kiddy shampoo hop out at me on the Method home page. Were you involved in the design of those new lines (and if you were, can you tell us about it)?
DA: I wish. That was the work of my boss, Josh Handy, our illustrious creative director. And the adorable graphics were done by Sally Clarke, one of our many talented graphic designers.
JS: Do you just work on design for Method now, or are you still building furniture?
DA: I don’t know if I’d call it “furniture design,” but I’ve been living for the last year in a converted (actually still converting) warehouse, and I have built plenty of furniture, walls, and other toys for the space. With a handful of friends, I’ve been transforming this old ironworks shop into a wonderful home and playground, filled with everything a young lad could hope for. Between work and the warehouse, I'm pretty darn satisfied with my creative output, so you probably won’t see any furniture from me for a while (unless it’s in the warehouse, of course).
JS: As our store shelves have become increasingly cramped with more and more of the same stuff, it seems like it's the products that are either exceptionally different or exceptionally well branded that are finding success. Do you think Method will lose its sparkle once all the tag-along products start popping up?
DA: We try not to dwell too much on the competition — it only stifles the creative process. But, to answer your question more specifically, we have seen and will continue to see competition on many fronts. To date, nobody has been able to recreate the unique blend of style and substance that makes Method so special. We’re selling more than a bottle of soap; we’re offering a philosophy and a culture, which is inimitable. We’re confident that if we continue to focus on delighting our consumers in new and innovative ways, and letting our culture drive our products, we’ll continue to stay ahead of the competition.
JS: So, you've got this environmentally conscious, design-savvy creative class, and they're all obsessed with the idea of sexy cleaning products — words that up until very recently, could hardly exist side-by-side. What are some new product areas that you are hoping to take your currently captive audience into?
DA: Our goal, which is ambitious but achievable, is to create a healthy, happy home revolution. We’ve already blurred the lines between personal care, home cleaning and air care, and while continuing to revolutionize these categories, we hope to expand our offerings so we can lead our advocates further in the fight against dirty. Squeaky Green, the Method guide to detoxing your home (co-written by our founders, Adam and Eric), is one example of how we’re helping our advocates create healthier, happier homes in new ways.
JS: Your house is always spotless, huh…
DA: Well, until Method makes solutions for the whole “ware-home,” it won’t be completely spotless.