Gatorade's Xavi Cortadellas Leverages Design Thinking to Evolve An Iconic Product

Innovation Conference attendees listen to Xavi Cortadellas, head of design and innovation at Gatorade. Photography by Erik Bardin.

When Robert Cade and his team of scientists at the University of Florida College of Medicine mixed together the original combination of water and electrolytes that would later come to be known as Gatorade, they knew they had something revolutionary on their hands. A drink that replenishes nutrients that players sweat out during games and practices was one of the first steps in the development of the modern athlete. But that was 50 years ago and athleticism has changed into something far more complex than a one-size-fits-all drink formula can support.

That’s where Xavi Cortadellas, Gatorade’s head of design and innovation, enters the picture. At the Innovation Conference, Cortadellas used his lecture, "Ecosystem Innovation: Evolving Towards a Platform Business," to explain how he leveraged his formal training in architecture and design thinking skills to usher in the next Gatorade revolution: .

“I’m an outsider in my company, but I like that,” said Cortadellas. “It gives me a different perspective on how to approach problems. For creating a completely new product for the 21st century, this was certainly a .”

Gatorade Gx is an evolved version of the original Gatorade concept. Athletes still receive a combination of water and electrolytes, but now they can select from nine different formulas that replenish the body based on its metabolic needs. How do they know what to pick? A smart cap on the water bottle’s lid and a sweat-monitoring sticky patch feed data into a Gatorade smartphone app. Armed with this data, the athlete is now rendered “a scientist of her own body,” said Cortadellas.

Cortadellas and his team not only delivered Gatorade a new, buzz-worthy product. They also reinvented the Gatorade brand as a platform business. Cortadellas studied major trends happening in the spheres of consumerism, business practices, and technological advancements, realizing that all these influences could combine together in a methodical way to launch Gatorade into the future. He devised a five-step, circular program that began first with a hypothesis, traveled through stages of design and piloting, finishing at commercializing and data-gathering—which would then be used to reframe the original hypothesis and begin the process anew.

“The most valuable thing I learned from this process was that insight and learning can happen at any stage,” explained Cortadellas. “Never think of your work as a test—that sets up a pass/fail binary. There is always a lesson to be learned when you use design thinking.”

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