Can organizations be beautiful?

April 4, 2010

At IDEO we have been working on the topic of designing organizations for a while, most specifically the design of organizations to be more innovative. My struggle with this particular domain of design thinking has been one of aesthetics. Great design thinking results in  functionally and emotionally satisfying solutions where the emotional value is generated through the creation of meaning. In design, meaning largely comes from aesthetics and so I have been wondering how to think about aesthetics when considering the design of organizations. Hence the question, can organizations be beautiful? More specifically can organizational designs be beautiful? Is there a 'designerly-ness' to the process of organizational design?

I have been wondering about this partly because I believe without an aesthetic component the best design minds will not apply themselves to these kinds of problems and partly because of a frustration with current organizational design practice that seems to largely be about arranging boxes in an organizational chart.

Are there overarching design concepts that can be described as beautiful? I think Shaker communities might be considered beautiful, not just because they created beautiful things but because of the simplicity of structure, clarity of purpose and thoughtfulness for every aspect of the experience.

Is Google, with its twenty percent personal project time, a beautiful organization?  Are there organizational archetypes that can be evaluated in aesthetic terms? A bee colony could be considered a beautiful example of emergence. What would a beautiful, innovative organization look like or feel like?