In 2021, our world remains in a state of global change. Work environments have come into our homes, consumer habits have shifted and brands have reimagined creative ways to engage with customers. With change comes brand evolution to meet it, but how can brands know how to evolve?

Evolution is difficult to spot without deep knowledge of how systems interact with each other. It’s easy to look into the past and see what changed and why, but the foresight to look into the future and properly predict what’s to come is more challenging. Surprisingly enough, by taking inspiration from nature’s own design, we can identify early indicators of where evolution happens first, at the edges of environments or “ecotones”.

In ecotones, two distinct environments interact, creating what is called "the edge effect." Because these edges see change before the rest of their respective environment, they are the early indicators of how that change will work, and are the first places we can see evolution or adaptation.

One example of an ecotone are the estuaries of Florida, where fresh-water streams meet salt-water tides. Yoel Stuart, a researcher at the University of Texas, Austin, observed that the brown anole lizard (a transplant from Cuba) encroached upon the native green anoles territory, competing for resources and even eating the green anole eggs. Yoel observed that as a result, the green anoles of Indian River Lagoon naturally selected for larger toe pads in just 20 generations, so that they could cling to looser branches higher in the trees.


The concept of "the edge effect” in business isn’t new. Organizations are always pivoting their offerings based on market demand. Netflix went from renting movies by mail to streaming online and now they’re producing shows and movies. Patagonia went from selling climbing pitons to outdoor clothing and now they’re moving into sustainable activism. As organizations get more comfortable at the edges of their core offerings, they’re able to adapt to market changes more quickly and survive.

"The edge effect" also has the potential to impact workplace culture. We see examples of incredibly successful organizations benefiting from and even intentionally engineering edges in their work environments. For instance, Apple, Google, and Facebook design their campuses and workplaces to maximize workplace collisions which facilitate chance encounters and interactions between teams.

At Cast & Hue, we are always focused on designing experiences for the future so that your business evolves for your customers and not because of them. We believe that one of the areas most ripe for evolution within organizations today is the edge between the employee and customer experience. Typically we’ve looked at these two areas separately, but we believe there is a space where the progress for both employees and customers is joined.

If you’re trying to understand how best to innovate or evolve your brand, try starting at the edges. Where are your employees and customers interacting? What are the deeper needs each of these groups are trying to solve? What edges can you currently identify with your offering and which ones seem fuzzy?

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