Capsule v. Capsule: Prescription for Confusion?
Illustration courtesy of Capsule design agency.

Capsule v. Capsule: Prescription for Confusion?

The co-founder of Capsule design agency on what happens when another business by the same name moves into town. is a digital pharmacy startup opening its second market, in Minneapolis / St. Paul. is a 21-year old brand experience design firm with worldwide headquarters here in Minneapolis first. Let the fun begin.

Whether it’s after a speech or in a meeting, we’ve been asked with inerrant regularity where we derived the Capsule name. We have two answers, a clean version and a version slightly darker. The clean version is, a capsule (time, space or other container) is a vehicle for exploration and discovery. It’s a container for things of particular meaning. An environment where people and ideas come together. The essence, highly condensed, compact.

But, the dark version is a little more interesting and relevant to our current situation. Design is like a drug and a Capsule is the perfect form in which to dispense that fantastic form of medication to clients. It was early on in our history when we noticed a tendency for our clients to become addicted to great design. The only constraints were budgets and available time to get more and more of it. So, on occasion, and for the right audience, we would refer to ourselves as a “dispensary” of a legal, healthy and addictive drug known as great design.

No needles, no pill popping and the side effects are all fantastic. The drug of design makes life better by taking the time to consider who the audience is and design something for them. If you covet your iPhone or other Apple product, you’re already a user. Great design makes you feel better and the person for whom you’ve designed something. Sometimes it is easy to spot, other times it just fades into the background like a great pair of Red Wing Shoes, designed to last. Design is a highly addictive, healthy drug. Try some.

Now, we have coming into Minneapolis and setting up shop delivering “prescribed” drugs around our fair city. We have our trademark and they have theirs, we have and they have paid way too much to buy the .com from a squatter. They will spend millions on media and flood the market with messages around a digital pharmacy. We will continue to dispense our form of a great drug (design) and exceptional community building through our gatherings. We will coexist with minimal issues.

Here’s where it gets interesting, in what the lawyers refer to “Likelihood of Confusion.” We’ve already checked with the best trademark attorney in town and our friend Stephen Baird says: no likelihood. They dispense drugs and will have a physical location, we dispense a drug known as design and have a physical location; both of us will be in the North Loop. Apparently this argument holds water like your hands at a desert mirage. Our drug isn’t prescribed.

Why isn’t it? Everything around you is designed—the chair you’re sitting in, the computer you’re reading this on and the coffee mug you just took a sip from have all been designed. For that matter, the pills and bottles used to deliver drugs from to our community have been designed. Yet, few things can claim to be great designs. Wouldn’t it be great if the chairwoman of your board wrote a prescription to go out and get great design, immediately?

Anyway, back to the drugs and how you manage through a situation where you see “likelihood of confusion” and the lawyers don’t. The next best thing you can do is jump on their coat tails and ride the awareness for Capsule coming to town. So, when you see an ad for and a digital pharmacy, think of the drug of great design and how it can make life so much better. On a more serious note, here are some non-legal antidotes to address this type of situation.

  1. Awareness v. knowledge. Reduce your marketing spend on awareness tactics and move to knowledge tactics. In the case of Capsule, this means workshops, seminars, and any other more in depth tactic will increase knowledge of the healthier Capsule.
  2. Likelihood of confusion. This challenges their brand as well, but while neither entity should back down, they can start to co-exist in the ecosystem. Referring and redirecting is beneficial, but can also be delivered with an attached message. “Sorry, you’ve reached the Capsule known for designed experiences; go to for designed drugs.”
  3. Draft on them. The larger ad spend brings about energy around the word “capsule” with the hope that it will lead to the website and engagement. Our answer, be comfortable in the draft position dispensing calming brand, design and marketing advice; even if they’ve come by for some Xanax. Drug-free design.

There, we did it, poked a bit of fun, welcomed our new friends in the digital pharmacy (drug dispensing) business and handed out some advice.

Take two doses of design thinking and call me in the morning.