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Inspiration is All Around

By: Karen A. Newman
Posted: December 10, 2008, from the December 2008 issue of GCI Magazine.

Gail Boye

There are some great product development stories in the world, including Post-it notes, Super Glue and the iconic Slinky toy, discovered when a spring fell off a desk and “walked” across the room. Many new products emerge from a mix of science and serendipity to become category leaders with long, profitable lives. For every new product, there’s a story about the creative process behind it.

Gail Boye tells her story of inspiration in the everyday. While working at Bobbi Brown some years ago, Boye found a baked powder technology from Italy that she wanted to manufacture in a stick format, like artist’s pastels. The product went to market and met with a few customer complaints of being messy and difficult to use. But the story that began in Italy was soon resolved there. “I was so impressed with this product and the payoff that I felt compelled to find another way to package it and offer a new experience,” says Boye. “I was in Italy having dinner with the supplier talking about our next steps when I noticed the Tuscan floor in the restaurant and realized how perfect it would be if we could translate that design in a compact.” For Boye, inspiration came from the floor beneath her feet.

When Inspiration Rings

Fast forward to 2008. Boye, who today is vice president of global product development for Avon’s Mark brand, finds it difficult to verbalize her creative process, saying it’s something that comes to her naturally. What works for her, says Boye, is staying open to ideas from any source, and following her gut.

“I get my ideas from fashion, textiles, food and furniture, but today the most influential area, in my opinion, is the technology industry. I am increasingly impressed with how gadgets are getting smaller and more compact while the functionality keeps increasing,” says Boye. She asks herself how the same can be done for cosmetics. One answer was Flip for It, the Mark compact with a rotating platform that houses seven full-size products, inspired by flip phones—cell phones that snap shut to prevent accidental calls—and BlackBerry devices.

As for following her gut, Boye says it’s instinctive. It’s not unusual for her to wake up early in the morning with an “I’ve got it” moment, followed by some tough internal Q&A. “When I have an idea in my head, I always have a dialogue with myself to see if it’s actually viable—‘What will it cannibalize?’ ‘Can we afford it?’ ‘Would I buy it?’ If it passes my gut test,” she says, “I share it with the team.”