Good design is good business.

How did IBM’s design philosophy help lead the company to success, and how can we learn from it? 

IBM is a brand design that has been at the head of the technology field for decades, establishing its place through the birth and rise of the information age. Responsible for achievements such as the first practical example of artificial intelligence, such ubiquitous inventions as the hard drive and the bar code, and for helping NASA send man to the moon. 


When Thomas J. Watson Jr. took over IBM in 1952, he knew that he would lead the company forward through modern design. To put his new direction in motion, Watson hired the company’s first design consultant, Eliot Noyes.  

Noyes carried out a company-wide design program that addressed everything from IBM’s products, to its buildings, logos, marketing materials, and everything in between. This so-called “design thinking” was not only for consistency of look and feel, it was to establish the purpose and meaning behind the company’s management and culture, as well as their products and marketing.

“The impact Noyes had was incredible,” says Steven Heller, author and design director at the New York Times. “He oversaw the modernisation of all aspects of the brand. IBM became the company to beat.”

This approach to corporate design was visible in everything from the inspiring workplaces their employees enjoyed, to the iconic products their customers loved. Watson's direction saw IBM through a period of great success, and in a 1973 lecture at the University of Pennsylvania, he declared that “Good design is good business”.


Design is now seen as essential for brands to express their values, attract attention, and get ahead of the competition.


Currently the world's biggest tech company—Apple—is perhaps the clearest modern day example of how design thinking of the kind pioneered by IBM can impact the desirability of a brand and their offering. 

This approach to business can be scaled to organisations of any variety and size in order to lead the way to success.

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