Earlier this week, I spoke at Product Tank London. They wanted me to speak about hybrid working so I shared some of the lessons Modern Human has learnt over almost 10 years of being a remote design practice.

When we created Modern Human, Chloe and I set out to reimagine the design practice: to create more value to our clients, to create a more creative environment for our team; and to contribute solutions that solved genuine problems in meaningful ways.

We took nothing for granted. We reimagined everything from first principles: from the way we worked, to the way we engaged with clients, to the work we took on. Industrial design was originally born out of a commercial need to mass produce affordable, attractive goods for ordinary people and much of its progress as a discipline had been born in different times: with periods of growth during the interwar and post war periods. But in our context (the second decade of the 21st Century), it was easy to see that the world needed a different type of design. From that realisation, our design philosophy grew.

Some of the differences started as simple ones: we don’t send any internal email at Modern Human - everything goes over Slack and always has. We don’t all sit in the same room. Our team is distributed and always has been. Our rituals and processes are designed for high-levels of collaboration, but without the assumption that everyone is in the same place at the same time.  

This had a much bigger impact than we would initially realise. It changed how we could work with clients. We work with clients not for them, we bring them into the design process and collaborate closely with them. The same rituals and processes that enable us to work across boundaries of time and space also allowed us to work with our clients in the same way. It no longer mattered whether our clients were down the road or in another country: we could work with them equally collaboratively.

This allowed us to work more closely with our clients. We brought them into our team and made them part of the design process. This stemmed from a core belief that humans are wonderfully creative, emotional, social beings. In other words, our clients are just as creative, emotionally intelligent and socially informed as we are. Equally capable of making the leaps of insight and creativity that we make every day.

This, of course, was proved right on project after project. Where it was proved wrong it wasn’t the individual’s at fault, it was usually factors hidden within their organisational culture. So we reinvented how we influence the social constructs of large corporations to enable insightful creative leaps from client teams. It led us to found an Academy to teach organisations how to do the same, and a workplace design practice so that we could help other organisations to create effective habitats for more effective teams.

We realised that an effective design team needed skills beyond those traditionally thought of as design skills. So we set about building a team with a broader skill set. We built a team from diverse backgrounds in anthropology, psychology and behavioural sciences; architecture, product design, service design, interaction design and interior design; data science, technology and business management. We realised that the team needed to bring diverse perspectives to problems and that the best way to guarantee that was by actively considering the inherent and acquired diversity of our team when hiring.

As we reinvented the design practice for the 21st Century, we honed our philosophy. It became the core belief system that guided the development of our studio and the work it created. Modern Human believes that everyone is innately curious and creative, and that this latent creative ability can be harnessed and used to solve problems: both business problems and social ones. Harnessed correctly, this creativity imagines products, services, experiences and environments that enriched life, empower us and liberated us all every day.

98 projects later we’ve been very lucky to work with some magnificent clients on fascinating, transformational projects that have stretched the boundaries of design. As we grow and build our studio we continue to search for those projects. The ones that allow us to question the place of design in the world and allow us to question what our design practice should be.

Stay Brave. Keep being disruptive. Despite the darkness in the wider world, never stop believing in a better future. Let’s imagine what’s next and build it together.


01_ 17 ways you can help the people of Ukraine right now

It’s tempting to give in to the inevitable sense of helplessness as we watch the Ukrainian people fight for their freedom but there are things that you can do to help. Here are 17 ideas… ⭢

02_ The Kyiv Independent

Our research on democracy, news and social media highlights that a free and independent press is more important than ever. It also highlights the natural human tendency to look away from the emotionally draining 24-hour news cycle. The journalists of the Kyiv Independent are doing vital work to bear witness to Russian atrocities and publicise them to the world at large. ⭢

03_ The power of animation to change views on refugees

Danish animation, Flee, is the first film to be nominated for best international film, animation and documentary. ‘Animated documentary’ might initially feel like an oxymoron but Flee is an example of the power of the medium to present the perspective of marginalised communities and challenge right-wing stereotypes. ⭢

04_ A brutalist hanging gardens of Babylon’ – the maddening, miraculous Barbican hits 40

Originally conceived as a utopian city within a city, the labyrinthine London landmark had a troubled path on its way to being hailed as an architectural icon. This article looks at the history, the experience and the future of the Barbican. ⭢

05_ How Working From Home Will Permanently Change the Way We Travel

The travel editor of Bloomberg predicts that hybrid working will mark a resurgence in digital nomadism. The trend dynamics stack up. Now that remote working is the norm, there are many, many more people who will be able to work not just from home, but from anywhere in the world. We’re seeing it in our own team: just this week, we’re working from Brazil, France and Sweden. Can we all agree though never to utter the horrendous portmanteau: ‘Bleisure’? ⭢

Studio notes

Having kicked off big projects in January, February has largely been a continuation of the work we’d started.

Just before Christmas we launched a vision project for one of Canada’s biggest financial services firms. They have recently set off with an exciting new ambition, have just signed a long-term technology partnership and are working with us to create a vision and concept of their next generation insurance and investment platform. We spent December deep in design ethnography to understand, January cultivating concepts, and February honing, refining and developing those concepts into a robust ecosystem of products and services. March will see the conclusion of this project.

This month we started working with charity, Map Action (, to help them apply design to make their work more effective. Map Action are a fantastic charity that apply geospatial expertise to humanitarian situations to greatly improve the outcomes for people affected. They are increasingly working on prevention rather than emergency humanitarian response, and their work is more and more focused on mitigating the impacts of climate change. We’ve spent a long time with volunteers and the core team understanding their work. We’ve got some interesting ideas for how design could help their work and we’re prototyping solutions at the moment. We’ll be testing them at a volunteer day later on this month.

Finally, we started designing an exciting new feature for our leading EduTech’s client’s flagship product. I can’t tell you too much about it, but we’re really excited by this feature. Partly because it came from some vision & strategy work we did for them and this is a good opportunity to see that work through to production. Partly, its because it’s a great example of a single insight from ethnography leading to a single design intervention which is a truly rare occurrence.

We’ve already been invited to submit talks for a lot of different conferences. It seems that after 2 years of lockdowns 2022 will be a big year for speaking opportunities. So we wondered, what events and conferences are you excited about in 2022? What are the must-attend events later in the year? Where should we be speaking - and listening - this year?

Ruth is also reaching out to potential new clients that we’d like to work with in the year ahead. We only do 12 projects a year, so we’re often booked well in advance. We’re always looking to start conversations with interesting companies who might need our help though. She is trying to find projects that will make a genuine difference to companies, their customers and the world but we’re not in any rush. If you think you’d like our help in the year ahead then now is the time to start that conversation. Drop Ruth ( an email and she’ll set up a conversation.

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Modern Human · St John's Innovation Centre · Cowley Road · Cambridge, CB4 0WS · United Kingdom

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