My dear friend Mohammed Faris poses an excellent thought experiment in his profound new book, The Barakah Effect. “How can we build a company or product that lasts a thousand years and benefits humanity?”
It’s a bold question that invites us to reframe our perspective on entrepreneurship and design.
During the past twenty years, I’ve been developing my creative practice and leading my design consultancy, Gould Studio. At the same time, I’ve been seeking a holistic understanding of how design, entrepreneurship, and creativity can align with my Islamic faith.
This search resulted in defining and aspiring towards six spiritual principles that help guide and inform what I term ‘Heart-Centered Design. They are Intentionality (Niyah), Sincerity (Ikhlas), Excellence (Ihsaan), Contentment (Ridaa), Trust (Amanah), and Blessings (Barakah). My understanding of these words, including Barakah, is not well captured in single English words but used for convenience and familiarity. This is especially true when sharing these concepts with mainstream audiences unfamiliar with Arabic terms.
I have conducted training for product designers at companies like Apple and Google who were encountering these words and concepts for the first time. While notably familiar with terms like zen, wabi-sabi, and feng shui, none had really considered an ‘Islamic’ spiritual approach to design.
Steve Jobs was notably inspired by his many visits to Kyoto, and there is a clear influence on the simplicity experienced in Apple’s design philosophy. But it made me think, ‘Where are the designers and products inspired by the profound beauty in our Islamic tradition?’ In the wonderous cities of Fes, Istanbul, Damascus, Granada, Jerusalem, and Madinah, I discovered artistic & architectural marvels adorned with mesmerizing mosaic tiles and majestic calligraphy—an astounding and enduring creative legacy. It turns out I was thinking about it the wrong way. These beautiful creative efforts were designed for remembrance, not distraction. We don’t even know the names of the most incredible craftspeople, artisans, calligraphers, and designers who left us this incredible heritage. What we do, however, is their invitation to contemplate and remember God as a result of appreciating their work centuries later. The way I understand it, this experience exemplifies what Mohammed calls ‘the Barakah Effect’ in the context of design.
How, then, might we, as modern-day designers, entrepreneurs, and professionals, reconcile the deep understanding and spiritual practice of our creative predecessors with our hyper-digital, Hustle Culture lives?
I don’t have any shortcuts for you. I’m afraid there is no quick checklist that will guarantee your next product or startup will benefit people a thousand years later. But what I can hope to share is a brief explanation of these timeless and universal spiritual concepts in relation to the design process and how they might foster Barakah in our work (a topic I will explore in detail in my upcoming new book, “The Heart of Design“).
Our creative vision and idea might be small and specific or bold and vast, but in all cases, we might apply these deep spiritual concepts as our ‘design values’ to inform a meaningful approach to our work and professional path. Let’s explore:
- With clear intentionality (Niyah), we may commence our creative or entrepreneurial journey with direct alignment to our spiritual aspirations. We start with Bismillah, in the Name of God, and strive for a vision that serves a noble purpose. By reframing project success to be holistic and inclusive of spiritual well-being, not simply financial impact. With a commitment to design for remembrance and not for distraction. To create work that will inspire, inform, and respect our audiences – not pressure, rush, or addict, and to avoid fueling Hustle Culture.
- Secondly, our creative and entrepreneurial path should be one of sincerity (Ikhlaas). We are invited to practice design to illuminate hearts, empower livelihoods, and transform communities with a call to remembrance. To align our work to meaningful causes, clients, and projects that benefit humanity. To reconnect audiences to divine beauty & artistic perfection in God’s creation, present in the world at all times as the ultimate design.
- Thirdly, to embody and pursue excellence (Ihsaan). This means a commitment to quality and well-considered execution of design in all aspects, including the way we serve audiences, stakeholders, staff, suppliers, and natural resources. We may ask questions encouraging our startup & team to reflect on God’s divine names & attributes and how we might aspire to manifest them in our products. Perhaps a social enterprise will contemplate Al-Adl (The Just) or a product designer, Al-Musawwir (The Fashioner of Shapes).
- By seeking and maintaining a state of contentment with the Divine Wisdom that decides the outcomes of our affairs (Ridaa). This means practicing humility and gracefulness by appreciating success as a gift and reciprocally accepting challenges & setbacks as learning and wisdom on the path to growth. Cultivating awe and wonder at the Creative Majesty of Allah (SWT) and His design of the universe to inspire our humble efforts.
- Understand that our creative imagination, designer instincts & entrepreneurial efforts are a trust & responsibility to serve and empower others (Amanah) and not exclusively to further our material wealth. Taking the opportunity to reframe personal, community, and global problems as design challenges to be solved individually and collectively and embracing our professional journey as a way to foster a culturally diverse, global, like-hearted movement striving for a bright, shared future.
- Believing actively in the abundance of God’s blessings (Barakah) to enable our success, and the vast opportunities to design for good and positive change in a transformative, not transactional way and aspiring for far-reaching impact, with a very long-term interpretation of success that may come only in future generations. By embracing a co-opetition (not competition) mindset, knowing that together we are stronger.
Returning to The Barakah Effect book, I love how Mohammed invites us to engage in ‘high-ummah’ projects that call us to pursue conscious, visionary, and spiritually grounded leadership with ambitious objectives. By applying these principles and asking deeper questions about our creative and entrepreneurial ambitions, I pray together, we may soon experience a generation of transformative products, brands, and companies that embody Barakah Culture and invite us to remembrance, not a distraction.
Discover and support Peter’s forthcoming book, The Heart of Design