If we would describe our industrial age as linear the world we now enter is now non-linear. The world of No Straight Lines ushers in entirely new ways of thinking about how a business, an industry, an organisation works – what we make and who we make it with. We are presented with a design challenge – how can we make business become higher performing in every way? I think it is a beautiful and challenging question. But where to begin?


Well let’s start with the fact that human beings experience the world through their senses. And it is to these senses that business must now pay serious attention. There is nothing wrong with seeking efficiency, however, when spreadsheet optimisation of a business dominates things go wrong. It can have profound structural repercussions to an industry and a business. Why would the NHS spend £150k on saving someone’s life only to provide food that cannot restore the patient? Or place them in an environment so barren it protracts the recovery process? Why would you offer the lowest possible value for the highest possible price? Or, serve overpriced, poorly sourced and prepared food in a canteen when we know that a truly energised workforce will work harder and longer hours, and take off less time sick because they have the mental and physical energy to do so.


Design experiences delight and salve the minds and bodies of travellers. Think of someone walking into a canteen after turning in a 12-hour shift: they need comfort and a sense of well-being – this has always been the mainstay of the hospitality industry. Our bodies are constantly computing all: temperature, pressure, wind, light, taste, sound, it goes on and on, all at the same time. Our intuitive consciousness is plumbed into our senses. It is how we make sense of the world, so why would you not create a business that is designed specifically to enhance, enthral and inspire our senses? Why can’t a business be beautiful in every way?


Design as experience, as culture, for example, understands that designing and creating products that are intuitive, easy  and joyful to use will sell more products  and services at a higher value. In a Temkin survey six times more people were likely to buy with a positive emotional experience,  12 times more likely to recommend the company, and five times more likely to forgive a mistake. Apple, for example, is  a design-led company – it has one singular focus – ‘the customer experience’. Design as a principle is about resolving then crafting how someone is going to use a tool, a service. Great design is describing the very best experience for them, then, moving towards realising the full potential of that vision.


Think about the world of mobile phones. Before the introduction of touch-screen intuitive technology (aka smartphones), mobile phones were clunky button-operated devices, perceived not as mini computers, but as machines cutting the umbilical cord from the wall. Or consider the sensuality in ambience, smell and service of a proudly organic wholefoods store that asks you to linger a little longer. Too urban chic for you? Observe the queues outside Honest Burgers, or the queues snaking out of any number of mobile street food offerings that have crowds around them.


My observation is – it all comes down to design. Some of the most highly valued businesses today, were founded by designers. A designer asks a simple question – is it useful and is it beautiful? At a profound level a designer can answer needs people have and in so doing, reshape the world we live in. And a design-led approach uses everything to create the optimum outcome.

Another example, is the recent evolution and transformation of food production enabled by technology. Urban farming and vertical farming are two examples. Japan excels in creating the means by which food can be produced locally and at organic scale within the structures of buildings described as vertical farming. Urban farming in the USA, from Detroit, Portland, New York, San Francisco to Los Angeles points to a new way of growing and feeding communities – and they love it. We may not want to all go back to the fields but what we do want is to know where our food comes from. Another example is wellness and well.being, which entered mainstream society only recently as a social and economic trend dovetailing with what is called ‘Wearable Tech’. How could a company feeding a large workforce retain and motivate their talent? By helping them eat well, to be well, combining technology, food and environment. This could be an exciting design challenge. In a workforce of 5,000, many people run marathons or do triathlons or are committed to a particular sport. They need a nutrition regime – how can we help? How could that help us?

If one looks at Google or Facebook or indeed other forward.thinking companies that have invested heavily in catering and the cultural environments in which employees work, one can deduce this is more than just ‘the feel.good factor’. This all loops back to design and understanding the true benefits of investing in environment, culture and how we feel as individuals and a community. Even Olafur Eliasson, the artist best known for his giant sun at the Tate Modern that profoundly affected and attracted tens of thousands of people believes that serving his numerous Berlin studio staff is about the ‘true’ hospitality as an employer. True hospitality is such an elegant phrase. Vegetarian food, lovingly prepared and cooked keeps his staff well and healthy. There has to be a hidden benefit there?


Returning to design as a principle – some of the most highly valued companies started five to eight years ago were founded by designers, including Airbnb. The design of meaningful experience and new business models are coming to the fore. Could a company use vertical farming to create an entirely new economy to grow its own produce? To not only feed its staff but say a local primary school too? How could that become part of the culture of the company to help relieve stress within the organisation and contribute to a more restorative culture?

Once upon a time, and not so long ago, Nokia had 40% global market.share, ITV boasted their company was a licence to print money. The world moves on. The upsurge of entrepreneurship and creativity in food and beverage production, the rise of street food that stems from a quest for authenticity connecting to artisan everything. This demonstrates a real drift towards a human ideal – the need for meaningful connection, in whatever form. So it is no surprise that a Gartner survey reveals 89% of companies believe that customer experience will be their primary basis for competition by 2016, versus 36% four years ago. This means competition for your workforce and competition in businesses that face the retail high street is real and forward looking. The rear view mirror is not the best place to see ‘what next’ is going to be like.

In this world of No Straight Lines it will be the most innovative and most creative who design their businesses to be beautiful in every way that will thrive.


“So why would you not create a business that is designed specifically to enhance,  enthral and inspire our senses? Why can’t a business be beautiful in every way?”