Slow Design & The Experience Economy

By Motti Essakow, Natural Capitalist and Chief Imagineer, Rythms by Design 

Whilst the “Slow” movement has only recently attracted mainstream attention and shaped the direction of design, the concept was born over 30 years ago. Understanding its’ roots and philosophy can help designers create spaces that inspire one-of-a-kind experiences, which, in turn, become treasured memories for hotel guests and enhance ROI for investors, owners and operators.   


‘Good, Clean and Fair’ – the official slogan that best describes the beginnings of a peaceful revolution when, in 1986, McDonalds opened their first restaurant in Rome, Italy. To protest the opening of McDonalds – which represents the epitome of fast food - a young Italian named Carlo Petrini and a group of slow activists came to demonstrate with the initial aim of defending regional traditions, good food, gastronomic pleasure and a slow pace of life.


Since then the Slow movement has evolved from the kitchen and into the rest of the house. The once-old–but-new-again approach and movement towards embracing a comprehensive approach to food that recognizes the strong connections & deep-rooted values between plate, people, politics and culture expanded with uncharacteristic rapidity beyond food into other subcultures including: Slow Travel, Slow Hotels, Slow Fashion, Slow Technology, Slow Cities and Slow Design.

No, the Slow philosophy is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. Slowness is the forgotten dimension to time (and mindset). It’s the difference between Chronological time (the time we live in or regular time - staring at the clock until bedtime or ten excruciating minutes in the target line time) and ‘Kairos’ time (where time is non-linear and measured qualitatively - savoring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them). Slowness is also about balance, so if you must hurry, then hurry slowly (‘Festina Lente’).


In 2002 the designer Alastair Fuad-Luke, a professor at the Finnish Aalto University developed the modern term of Slow Design. A philosophy which provides a framework about going away from ‘fast food architecture’ and instead towards stripping design back to its essence by re-focusing on craftsmanship, quality, open source and timeless designs which all provide a structure and framework for threading together a brand’s story.

A story that supports, installs and encourages wellbeing – both individually and collaboratively based on SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time- Bound) design of material objects and spaces, places and experiences that can and should be improved for the betterment of Human Capital, Natural Capital and Economic Capital. Think of the creative director being like the executive chef and all the design directors as the chefs.


In 2008, the initial six guiding principles of Slow Design were launched by Carloyn Strauss and Alastair Fuad-Luke. A seventh principle was later added. These guiding principles include:

1. Reveal

2. Expand

3. Reflect

4. Engage

5. Participate

6. Evolve

7. Ritual

The guiding principles of Slow Design are based on a concept called ‘Slow Technology’ – the idea of using technology intentionally to improve our lives without letting it control us. Much like food can be consumed mindlessly and in unhealthy quantity, addictive technologies can have negative impact on wellbeing when not used in moderation.


Slow design is a unique and vital form of creative activism and a behavioural change agent that is delivering new values for design. It’s the ultimate expression of authentic substance and quality where the best and most creative thinking often occurs from a walk in the ‘slow lane’.

A designer’s job is no longer about creating physically appealing products or catering to utilitarian and conformists aspects of a design. Just like Slow Food, it’s about using local ingredients, harvested and put together in a “Good, Clean and Fair way. The designer is a catalyst in creating design opportunities so that the user can re-design, re-configure and create new experiences that evoke an emotional reaction, create and offer a meaningful connection to places, spaces and experiences as opposed to products - a trend known as the ‘experience economy’.

In the words of artist and writer Leonard Koren: “Pare down to the essence, but don’t remove the poetry”.