We are a strategic design practice with systemic sensibilities.

Our work bridges disciplines and departments, roles and responsibilities; it is concerned with all of the factors around a thing, and not just the thing itself.

Practically, this means a lot of what we do lands in between established fields such as strategy, design, research, prototyping and culture change.

We push through boundaries and across borders in shaping new mental models, tools and frameworks.

Then we help you imagine how you might like things to work in the future, and guide you along those first steps.

John is a truly inspiring person to learn from and to partner with. Always insightful, creative and generous with his thinking, ideas and delivery,  he was instrumental in the marketing capabilities work we delivered for Unilever (2021/22) and a true partner in terms of ideating around the future of work, future skills and marketing innovation.  He is entirely unpretentious and pragmatic, whilst always stretching and challenging your assumptions and perspectives in the most motivating way.  A thoroughly enjoyable and effective, impactful partnership. 
Jo Royce
AVA Head of People, Culture and Capabilties

Working with Smithery has been a brilliant adventure for my entire team. They are not afraid of a challenge and their creativity and passion have opened our minds up to more innovative ways of working by helping to shape our thinking, actions and behaviours. Their work has helped us to create the culture of change we’ve needed to continue on our path of growth.
Julie Doleman
MD, Global Expansion, Experian Consumer Services

John is the single most creatively fertile person I have met in the last five years
Adam Morgan
Founder, Eat Big Fish

We love working with John; he is an awesome source of brilliant ideas and endless energy in our creative process.
Thomas Moradpour
President & CEO | The Glenmorangie Company | LVMH

I’ve found that if you have half an idea that you are excited about – John probably has the other half. He has a generous imagination earthed in an intellectual rigour that makes him a rare bird. I have benefited from his eclectic frame of reference and uncanny ability to make generative connections between people, ideas, genres. Working with John feels like play – why isn’t all work like that?
Tracey Camilleri
Thompson Harrison / Säid Business School

Over the past four years John has provided the following support to our senior tutors on the DP programme; career and development to our students, design led workshops, lead expertise and provided in a strategic capacity to Dr Phillips and James Tooze, reflecting on their research approaches and practices. John is exceptionally trusted and has been invited back to the RCA Design Products programme on countless occasions, his professional approach, thought provoking expertise and outputs are still very welcome for the future. He is a highly respected member of an extended visiting lecturer team.
Dr Rob Phillips
Design Products MA, Royal College of Art

Working with John is great. Not only do you get to experience his creative process, you also get exposure to the kaleidoscopic ecosystem that is Artefact Cards, Cardstock (all things cards), his amazingly insightful blogs and inspirational talks, and his network of other great craftspeople. I have learnt a lot.
His easy manner and way with people, makes working with him a pleasure. He creates insightful outputs, with great passion and care, that inspired and influenced our stakeholders and allies.
Jim Maltby
Principal Scientist, Dstl (MOD)

John V Willshire

John founded Smithery in 2011. All of his work is rooted in the idea that it is better to help organisations make things people want, rather than make people want things.

This is achieved through a nested collection of creative philosophies, processes and tools he has forged over the last decade to generate endless inspiration for the imagination and maximise the impact of ideas.

All this makes John a powerful partner for innovating in any capacity. From multi-year planning for uncertain futures to daily problem solving, designing global programmes to rapid idea generation, shaping the language of key imperatives to building digital platforms for deployment, his breadth of experience is matched only by his enthusiasm for learning new things.

John is also a visiting professor at IED in Barcelona, where he leads their annual summer Innovation and Future Thinking course, and is a guest lecturer at the RCA in London. 

Prior to starting Smithery, John was Chief Innovation Officer at PHD Media, and led innovation there from 2007-2011.

Helen Willshire

Helen joined Smithery as a co-director in 2015, and heads up operations, research and analysis, specifically when it comes to our larger strategic projects.

With a unique background in mathematics and psychology, Helen was previously a Principal Transport Planner in the Strategy department of Surface Transport at Transport for London, where she spent seven years leading strategy and innovation around bus fares and ticketing including a focus on the bus experience from the customer point of view.
Prior to this, Helen worked for the web survey team at TNS, where she specialised in market and customer research, HTML and how much people hate web surveys.

Analysing customer reaction and engagement has been a mainstay of Helen’s career, and is something she is still interested in through Smithery work.

Helen’s public sector experience balances out John’s predominantly commercial background, and so as a rule of thumb she takes the first view on anything with the word ‘policy’ in the title…

Over the past ten years, we’ve worked across innovation, strategy, design, culture, futures and more besides.

It’s led to an unrivalled toolkit and way of approaching problem solving across any domain, with speed, skill and craft. We call this Lightspeed Innovation, and once you learn to see things this way, you’ll never look back. Every problem and every client is unique, but here are some examples of how we might work together.


A rapid reflection process, starting with a briefing from you, and ending two days later with an hour of ideas of illuminating insights and unbridled imagination from us.

We will see something new in the challenge in front of you.


From helping you define a complex, gnarly problem, to designing and making the things that will overcome it. We bring clarity from our broad view across industries and disciplines.

We help you see what’s possible when you look at things differently.


As we work closely with our repeat clients on a variety of projects, we begin to see opportunities in their business, models and markets that offer truly transformative insights and ingenuity.

We will help you see a broader range of better futures.


To create meaningful, lasting change, we teach people to work in new ways, and teach leaders to support them. We help reorientate individuals and teams, and reimagine habits and practices.

We will help you see your world in a brand new way.