Tag Archives: design

Screw AppleWatch. Give me LYF!

Lordy, is it really 4 months since I last posted? Shame on me!

Well, it’s only fitting that I should break such a prolonged period of radio silence with news from my favourite discovery of 2014: the brilliant LYF Shoes.

If you haven’t come across this little gem before, clear 15 mins in your calendar to watch LYF founder Aly Khalifa’s talk from the Sustainable Brands conference in London last November. Seriously, do it. The design – not only of the product, but also the entire ecosystem and customer experience it spawns – is genuinely breathtaking in its scale and ingenuity and, as you pause and reflect on it, you’ll wonder why shoes would ever be made any other way in this day and age.

That’s why I couldn’t be happier to be one of the lucky few to be involved as an LYF Pioneer, shortly to receive my ‘LYF Fit Kit’ and begin the journey towards my first ever pair of custom-fit, one-of-a-kind, made-to-be-made-again footwear.

This may be the first time in my life that I’ve ever truly been an Early Adopter. I couldn’t give a stuff about all the hype surrounding the latest gadgets, like the AppleWatch, but LYF is different.

You see, I’m a sucker for anything to do with sustainability-inspired innovation, and the chance to play some small part in the development an enterprise with the potential to disrupt an entire industry is simply too good to miss. I also happen to be 6’7″ with size 14 feet, which means I’ve struggled for pretty much all of my adult life to find clothes – and especially shoes – that fit.

LYF, with me at least, has hit the mother of all sweet spots!

I’ll let others rave about the opportunity to design their own uppers and create a truly individual fashion statement (I am, after all, a 42-year old straight white male, which makes me something of a fashion vacuum).

What really intrigues me is the chance, for the first time ever, to own a pair of shoes that has been individually customised to the length and width of each of my feet (that’s right, folks, different sized feet receive different sized shoes!); more than that, to own a pair of shoes that will actually capture biomechanical data on the way I walk, using a device embedded in the heel, so that the design of the next pair I buy will be refined to fit even better; and all serviced by a closed-loop, circular business model that eliminates harmful substances from assembly, uses 100% recyclable materials, and spurs local economic development by encouraging micro-enterprises to spring up and fulfil all parts of the value cycle from Original Equipment Manufacture to assembly and retail.

Normally it’s my missus who has the exclusive preserve on getting excited about a pair of shoes but, on this occasion, I’ll gladly buck the trend.


Sustainability-inspired disruption: LYF Shoes

Traditional shoe-making is a nasty business, explains a video from LYF Shoes.

Cheap raw materials, exploitation of foreign labour, toxic adhesives and mega-heat ovens used in assembly, wasteful packaging, long-distance shipping and distribution… That’s a very long list of negative effects for the making and use of a product that, in the vast majority of cases, is ultimately destined for landfill.

Of course, all of this makes it an industry ripe for disruptive innovation. There has to be a better way, right?

Well, LYF Shoes (Love Your Fit. Love Your Fashion. Love Your Footprint.) looks like they may have found it – not just a product with a sustainable twist (a la Oat Shoes), mind you, but an entire sustainable system of design, production, distribution and consumption. A new and disruptively innovative business model.

Ready for the whistle-stop tour? Here are some of the headlines, viewed through the lens of the fundamental principles of design for sustainability, as described in my book


Material inputs: How might you redesign products and processes to reduce the amount and types of materials used? Are those materials recyclable, so that waste is no longer waste, but the food for another process? Could your raw materials come from someone else’s waste (or your waste become someone else’s raw material)?

LYF shoes are designed from the ground up to use 100% recyclable materials – from the recycled rubber and plastics in the sole and ‘performance plate’, to the cork insoles (the cork coming from recycled wine bottles), to the all-natural uppers. What’s more, those uppers are precision-cut and printed on-demand, using an all-dry digital printing process, so as to minimize ink and material waste.

Very clever!

Modularity and longevity: What is the expected life span of your product? How easily can it be repaired, updated or put to alternative use? How easy is it to dissemble the product into its component parts to aid that repurposing/updating/re-use?

LYF shoes are specifically designed for ease of assembly and disassembly – five component parts that fit together entirely without glue. That makes it a doddle, either to extend the life of the shoe by replacing a single worn component (no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater) or, if the shoe has given up the ghost completely, to return it to source to be recycled and turned into a new shoe. 

Cleverer still!

Closing the loop: How can you make use of reverse logistics to reclaim discarded outputs and turn them into new inputs? How close are the points of production and consumption? Can these distances be shortened to further increase the efficiency of your value cycle?

Here’s where it gets cleverer still. The simplicity of design and assembly – no glue, no ovens, no screen printing – enables a decentralized model of production and distribution. It paves the way for local microenterprises to spring up to fulfil just about every part of the value cycle – whether that’s Original Equipment Manufacture (OEM – i.e. manufacture of the component parts) or the job of assembly and disassembly at retail.

What’s more, this model slashes the costs and impacts of distribution and packaging by synchronising the points of production and consumption. And with customers incentivised to return end-of-life shoes, by virtue of a buy-back scheme (those shoes easily disassembled at the point of return and their components sent back to OEMs for remanufacture), the LYF model creates a ‘closed loop’ at a local level.

Cleverest of the lot!

Imagine you had absolutely no knowledge of all this ‘under the hood’ stuff. Instead, just pause and reflect on the entirely different customer experience it creates:

  1. You get to design your own shoes – before they’re made! Initially choosing from a range of styles and textile patterns, as the business grows you’ll eventually be able to upload your own print for a truly individual fashion statement. And you get to watch those shoes being made – at the point of retail, in front of your very eyes, in a matter of minutes.
  2. The shoes you receive won’t only be more to your taste in fashion, they’ll be functionally superior too – custom fit, more comfortable (and only getting more comfortable with every subsequent purchase, as an embedded digital capture device tracks biomechanics and builds a user profile that can be used to refine the design).
  3. And if, for whatever reason, those shoes just aren’t doing it for you any more – hey, no problem! Simply return to the store and either have them ‘upgraded’, or trade them in for a new pair, safe in the knowledge that every ounce of materials will go towards make another pair of shoes for someone else.

Seriously, what’s not to love? And if this sort of business model innovation floats your boat as much as it does mine, don’t be shy – go forth and shout about it! Here’s a wee video worth sharing as an introduction to/summary of the LYF story:

A better way to bigger profits

Last week, I gave a presentation to some of the folks at Landor Associates, the first part of which concluded with the following sequence of 3 slides that, for me, really crystallise the distinction between what I see as the strategically worthless practice of CSR and the disruptively innovative practice of designing for sustainability:

I absolutely adore those two quotes. The one from Bruce Mau just so perfectly sums up everything that’s wrong with “sustainability” as still practised by the vast majority of organisations today. The idea that it’s all about giving something back, whilst conveniently forgetting what you took in the first place is certainly no basis for long-term value creation.

Contrast that mindset with the quote from Ray Anderson (founder of sustainable business pioneers, Interface Inc.), which equally beautifully captures the essence of real sustainability as redesigning business in the pursuit of shared value, in recognition of the fact that the combination of climate change, population growth and diminishing resources presents a new set of frame conditions that the ways of the old industrial age cannot and will not survive.

The idea of a more constructive form of capitalism may seem like utopian nonsense to some, but adding grist to the mill of those of us who believe in finding “a better way to bigger profits”, the results just posted by the John Lewis Partnership today make for very interesting reading.

Famously co-owned by each and every one of its employees, JLP has just posted a 10.6% increase in profits over the past year, allowing its staff to share in £194.5 million in bonuses.

Most notably – and in stark contrast to the banks – those bonuses will be equally distributed right across the business at the rate 18% of salary. Chairman, Charlie Mayfield’s share? Less than £200,000. (Bob Diamond watch and learn!)

Why brand, design and sustainability are critical to delivering “thick value”

Forgive me for what is basically a re-hash of my previous post, but hey, ideas are always subject to iteration aren’t they?

I think I’ve finally managed to get the various strands to come together as a more coherent whole – aided to a large extent by re-reading the Arthur W. Page Society’s brilliant white paper on The Authentic Enterprise, and some interesting research from Havas Media that my learned pal, Indy Neogy, pointed me towards.

According to the latter’s Brand Sustainable Futures report, based on a survey of 33,000 consumers across four different continents, two-thirds of global brands are considered “irrelevant” by consumers. Those brands that are considered most meaningful are the ones building their relationships with consumers through sustainability.

So, here’s the “new and improved” elevator pitch. See if it floats your boat…


Brand. Design. Sustainability. These aren’t words that tend to loom large in the average CEO’s lexicon, but they should. Given the values shift we are already seeing as a result of the global financial crisis, they are increasingly important lenses through which to view innovation, value creation, and business transformation.

Why? Because the consequences of thin value – of profit decoupled from the people and resources impacted by its generation – have been exposed like never before in our lifetime. In order to rebuild credibility, demonstrate relevance and achieve lasting and meaningful differentiation, the big challenge facing corporations today is how to deliver thicker value.

1. Thick value means uniting all stakeholders around a clear sense of purpose. The corporation that wants to achieve long-term success must, more than ever before, be grounded in a sure sense of what defines it – why it exists, what it stands for, and why it matters. And that must be seen to dictate consistent actions and behaviours. That’s strategic branding.

2. Thick value means connecting brand and business strategy to a higher social purpose – not taking “business as usual” for granted and merely minimising the unfortunate side effects, but rather seeking to maximise the primary effects of what you do. Simultaneously creating value for business and society by innovating to solve social problems is what true sustainability is all about, and (according to the likes of Rosabeth Moss Kanter) it’s the next great competitive advantage.

3. Thick value means being authentic – ensuring that strategic intent is implicit in the very products and services you provide, how you organise yourself, and how you conduct your daily business. In other words, it has to be baked into everything you do – by design.

Not everything is about [brand/design/sustainability], but [brand/design/sustainability] is about everything.

Apologies in advance for what is inevitably going to be a bit of a long and rambling post. A lot of stuff has been floating around in my head recently and I’ve been struggling to join the dots.

Still, when you don’t know where to begin, says Design Thinker extraordinaire, Bruce Mau, the trick is just to “begin anywhere” and see where it takes you. So that’s what I’m going to do…

One spur for this post is an email I received recently from the UK MD of a leading design and innovation company (and fervent advocates of the whole T-shaped people thing), having introduced myself with a copy of my book.

“You certainly cover quite a few different areas – from sustainability, to brand and org design,” it said, “but these are capabilities that we have already, so a couple of questions for you…” – the first of which essentially asked me to unravel my T and pin my colours to the mast of a particular discipline.

Not an unreasonable question, necessarily; just one that, given their CEO’s oft-quoted distinction between merely multi-disciplinary thinking and truly integrative thinking, felt a tad incongruous.

In all fairness, I’m sure my own particular “T” – the down-stroke of an MBA qualified consultant, crossed by a passionate interest in brand, design and sustainability – must seem incredibly messy and unfocused to a great many people. Messy, I’ll freely admit to (call it the “curse of the curious”), but unfocused it certainly isn’t.

The only reason it appears so in the first place (cue the second strand of what’s been on my mind: Geoff Barbaro’s regular refrain about the limits of labels) is the straightjacket people tend to put on terms like brand, design and sustainability.

If the words “brand” and “design” conjure up images of pie-in-the-sky creative types in designer specs and black turtlenecks, and if “sustainability” means nothing more to you than green, then it’s hardly surprising if such an apparently eclectic set of interests proves a difficult circle to square.

Look through a slightly different lens, however – one that starts with the predisposition to connect rather than compartmentalise – and hopefully a different picture begins to emerge.

It all comes down to an overwhelming pre-occupation with how organisations can create enduring (read: sustainable) competitive advantage, by uniting all their stakeholders around an authentic sense of purpose – why you exist, who you are, what you stand for and why it matters (read: brand).

And how do you achieve that sense of authenticity? By design – beautifully defined by Brian Collins, in Warren Berger’s book, Glimmer, as “hope made visible”.

Brands (at least in the corporate and employer brand space I work in) aren’t created so much as uncovered – what is credible, relevant and differentiating about an organisation emerging, more than anything else, from the beliefs and intent implicit in its strategy, culture and systems. As Kevin Keohane hinted at on his DTIM blog a while back, branding is (or at least ought to be) about business strategy and organisational design, long before it’s about corporate identity and creative execution. Creativity without substance is meaningless.

Sustainability (at least how I view it) isn’t about the “end of the pipe”. It’s not about taking business strategy as a given and then just seeking to minimise the unfortunate side effects. The real sustainability challenge is to maximise the primary effects of what you do – providing mainstream products and services that directly address social and environmental problems. Fundamentally, that’s a design challenge – applying design principles and approaches to the full spectrum of a company’s behaviour, so that, rather than being seen as conflicting priorities, the need to innovate, to create distinctive brands and to maximise efficiencies across the business are all viewed as part of the same system.

I guess what I’m trying to say boils down to this:

  • Firstly, that brand, design and sustainability are connected, despite what some people might think.
  • Secondly, that brand, design and sustainability are about everything you do, because, if they aren’t, then the results of your efforts will never be authentic.
  • And thirdly, that all this (to some minds) artsy-fartsy stuff is actually anything but. Individually, and collectively, they are critical lenses through which to view organisational transformation, given the value shift we are seeing in this post-global financial crisis era.

All of which actually does bring me, fairly neatly, to what was the third impetus for this post…

If you doubt the veracity of that last statement above, pop over to Kevin Keohane’s blog and read his summary of insights drawn from Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s latest book, Supercorpyet another to add to the growing list of titles (The Opposable Mind, The Design of Business, The Designful Company, Change By Design, Glimmer to name but five) that signify a seismic shift in perspectives on how to create lasting and meaningful competitive advantage.

Dame Ellen MacArthur – sustainability champion

Dame Ellen MacArthur is one of the most amazing women on the planet – someone whose achievements as a sailor are so completely mindboggling that even Jeremy Clarkson was reduced to a state of fawning admiration when she appeared on Top Gear a couple of years ago (an appearance, incidentally, where she showed her incredible competitive spirit by promptly setting the fastest lap time for the “Star in a reasonably-priced car” challenge!).

It’s worth taking a second to list some of those achievements:

  • 2000 – she sails from Plymouth to Rhode Island in under 15 days, setting a world record for a single-handed monohull east-west passage, and the record for a single-handed crossing by a woman in any vessel
  • 2000-2001 – she places second in the Vendee Globe race with a time of 94 days, 4 hours and 25 minutes – the world record for a single-handed, non-stop, monohull circumnavigation by a woman
  • 2004 – she sails from New York Bay to Cornwall in just over 7 days, not only setting a new world record for a transatlantic crossing by a woman, but beating the previous crewed record as well as the single-handed version
  • 2005 – she beats the world record for a single-handed, non-stop circumnavigation, sailing over 50,000km in under 72 days. She sleeps no more than 20 minutes at a time, as she has to be on constant lookout day and night

So, when Ellen MacArthur launches an educational foundation to promote sustainability – and says that it’s more important to her now than sailing – people should sit up and take notice. If she brings only but a fraction of her guts and determination as a sailor to this new mission, this is fantastic news.

And, listening to her interview on BBC Radio 4 the other day, this is clearly someone who knows her stuff too (nothing like sailing non-stop around the world to teach you the concept of living within finite resources!). She’s spent the last 4 years talking with governments and business and, in the course of the interview, spoke very eloquently about the sustainability challenge:

The culmination of the last 4 years was the realisation that the way we do things now – the way we make things, the way we travel, the way we get our energy – is not sustainable, because we’re taking something [i.e. natural resources] that we have just once.

So we need to make things differently. And the voice from business – the voice from people I was talking to – was saying that we need skills that are different in the future, and that’s what the Foundation’s doing.

It’s getting the best case studies from industry, from experts around the world, and feeding those to young people, so they can see there’s actually something to aim for and that their future’s not about using a bit less, travelling a bit less and doing a bit less. It’s actually about redesigning the future.

As you can probably imagine, words that were music to my ears!

Likewise checking out the Foundation’s site and finding that, top-right on the homepage under Latest News, was a link to a video case study of Ellen visiting my sustainability heroes at Interface Inc. Check it out…

Sustainability and Design Thinking: it’s a hope thing

I made something of an off-the-cuff remark in a meeting with Richard Eisermann and his team at Prospect the other day – one that was greeted with enough smiles around the room to suggest that I might (unintentionally) have said something quite profound!

In chatting about the book, and what I see as the critical role of Design Thinking in imagining and realising more sustainable futures, I observed that Martin Luther King had had a dream, not a nightmare.

You probably get what I meant, without me needing to go into too much detail. Suffice it to say that, when so much talk about sustainability revolves around limits and sacrifice, it’s shouldn’t come as a huge surprise if people clap their hands to their ears and start yelling “Lalalalalalala!”

We need a more optimistic message to really engage people and that’s precisely why the gathering momentum of Design Thinking is to be welcomed. Design as a creative thought process is fundamentally idealistic, and it completely changes the tone and focus of the debate.

From “What is” to “What could be”.

From “Growth or no growth” to “What do you want to grow?”

From “Look what we’re going to have to give up!” to “Yeah, but have you considered the possibilities?”

Infinitely wiser people than me have said it before. Albert Einstein:

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Likewise Edward de Bono:

“You can’t dig a new hole by digging the same one deeper.”

It’s why Design Thinking is absolutely a philosophy of its time. And it’s why IDEO’s Living Climate Change site and the recent launch of The Living Principles (a new sustainable design framework from AIGA) are exciting developments. These guys are cottoning on to the idea that sustainability is fundamentally a design problem, and they’re bringing a completely different way of thinking to help solve it.