Case Study


A knowledge sharing solution for Caleres



The Problem:

Leadership felt disappointed at the returns.

Our Role:

We identified the need to make visible and align vision for the future of their communication culture.


Cultural alignment.

Caleres is a multibillion-dollar footwear company with worldwide operations. In addition to over 1,200 retail stores under the Famous Footwear and Naturalizer brands, Caleres’ wholesale divisions own and market other footwear brands such as LifeStride, Via Spiga, Sam Edelman, Connie, and Franco Sarto, as well as licensed brands such as Dr. Scholl’s, Carlos by Carlos Santana, Fergie Footwear and Vince branded footwear.

How we solved the problem:

In the first phase of the project, we employed two of our design futures activities to interrogate, elucidate and align visions of the future for the effort.                                                

One of those activities, Evaporation™, is used to expose the possibility space as it is visible to the stakeholders in the design challenge.

Among the concerns about the future unearthed during Evaporation
™ were insights such as:         

  • The cost of participation in knowledge sharing is too high.
  • We don’t know how to productively challenge communications we receive.
  • There are generational communication issues that we don’t address.
  • The people who compose and share information don’t further engage the audience.
  • There is a cultural fear of sharing knowledge.

Another activity, Substancing™, we use to interrogate and articulate a holistic description of a brand, process, system, tool, or person. Substancing™ is also used to explore the developmental locus for whatever is being examined — where is this thing in its growth and development? Through this activity, we were able to help stakeholders at Caleres articulate a simple explanation for the design solution. This solution is intended to …

“Nurture the creative soul of the company,”

… by …

“Protecting open collaboration and supporting the social capital of all employees,”

… so that it can …

“Empower innovation and collaboration for everyone at Caleres,”

… the result being to …

“Demonstrate a culture that engages the whole person.”

We used the results of the Evaporation™ and Substancing™ to help secure a principled posture toward the design of any new solution.

Among other things, stakeholders and executives from the top of the company committed to protect the pursuit of design solutions that directly addressed these cultural concerns. In particular, a commitment was made that top executives would adopt an authentic and transparent communication approach when using or supporting the design solution.

Caleres Plaza intranet

Design and Implementation

Our design work for Caleres continued with a third process, cultural anthropology, in which anthropologists were sent to the Caleres workplace to observe the people who it is hoped will use this solution and develop an understanding of the circumstances that inform their need to seek and share knowledge.                                                                

We used this anthropological insight to generate a set of personas that typify the different categories of circumstances we encountered.

These personas were then prioritized and used to inform all user experience design decisions. The entire user experience of Plaza was designed to support the circumstances contained in each persona before any other design was executed. With the user experience design in place, the art direction for the application – as informed by the results of Substancing™ – was executed. The interface was then implemented into the application and deployed in the cloud.

Cultural Acceptance and Adoption:

Prior to launch of Plaza, we identified early adopters and evangelists throughout the company using a combination of communication analysis and anthropology. We engaged these special users in conversations throughout the design process and included them in the design futures activities. As launch approached, we gave these users early access to check out the tool and participate in the testing process. We didn’t discourage these early adopters from sharing what they knew about this new solution; in fact, we encouraged it and gave them early build screenshots and other supporting media that they could share with their colleagues. In addition to this work priming and seeding knowledge of the new solution through early adopters, we also created conventional communication tools in the form of posters that were framed and hung around the office, “table drop” cards delivered to every desk, and an explainer video that was shared with the whole company. This hybrid approach created significant interest leading up to the launch.

Launch and Analytics:

The launch of Plaza was coincidental with the launch of a new brand for the whole company. While this might have caused the solution to be lost in the noise, our cultural acceptance e orts helped it to become of the most used communication platforms to discuss the implications of the new brand.

One particularly compelling moment came 8 days after launch when someone in the Chinese office posted a photo of the façade of the building with the new signage in place. It continues to be one of the most engaged piece of content in the application. Associates in North America expressed great interest at the efficacy and beauty of the efforts of their Chinese colleagues.

From launch forward, we have collected behavioral data from the application and measured and monitored key performance indicators. In particular, adoption and daily use was of great interest to the Caleres stakeholders who had seen their old solution go largely unused over its life. In the first six months of active use for Plaza, the number of users to adopt the platform is up over 500% from their previous solution and time spent in the application is up over 300%.