Token Future

What impact could the rise of NFTs have on the way we value design? Architect Jet Geaghan weighs risk vs reward in seven compelling outcomes.

An NFT, or non-fungible token, is a digital object that cannot be duplicated. NFTs allow the owners of digital or intangible assets that can be replicated to assert ownership and, by extension, to commodify and trade those assets. For example, anyone can browse photography of the latest Anish Kapour or Jeff Koons, but only one city can make a grand public artwork a tourist calling card. For anyone who has ever experienced the frustration of having an idea copied, NFTs tempt a possible solution.

As we know them today, NFTs exist in a world far removed from the everyday reality – belonging to an intangible fantasy land mostly pioneered by creators and connoisseurs of computer games and digital art. But the value placed on these digital objects, and the tokens associated, is as real as a coin in your pocket.

Where does design come into this? A fundamental value of design is its ingenuity to reimagine a better future. Designs can be abstracted or copied, but the ingenuity we refer to lies in the process, the work, the labour. The labour in design – the time, thinking, testing and problem solving – is what clients are ultimately buying. Labour is the valued commodity, with the building or interior being the product of that process.


‘Tokenising’ design labour would give clients the opportunity to bid for the time of a designer or design firm. By placing a higher value on time, this Token Future would create several compelling outcomes:

Complimentary Investment.

When a client invests in the design of a building, their investment is made in the name of the benefits expected from the finished building. Tokenising design labour would mean that a complimentary investment in the designer’s time is also made. To explain, a token purchased for design labour could appreciate value and be traded for profit. A token will appreciate as market demand grows, which is itself fuelled by public awareness of quality design. When a token appreciates, both designer and client/investor are rewarded with capital gain.

As a creative – let’s say a photographer – becomes more popular, demand for their tokens will increase. The photographer can sell as many tokens as they like, but the owners of the tokens might also trade them.

Mutually Beneficial Collaboration.

When a client purchases tokens from a designer, they become invested in the ongoing success of that token. For a client, the designer becomes a potential source of capital gain, like any other investment – something to be protected and nourished. For a designer, this means a client is more likely to support the process and capacity to perform.

Protection of Quality Design Time.

A Token Future should guarantee that purchased design time will not be overstretched. This approach would remedy the pitfalls of the fixed-fee contract model, which sees designers at risk of shouldering disproportionate labour commitments without compensation – resulting in all-nighters, working weekends and, ultimately, a compromised design. Avoiding these pitfalls is in the best interests of all parties.

If our photographer from the graph above later decided to withhold their supply of the token, the price will rise with the demand. This process gives the photographer more control over their work and rewards them directly for the growth in their reputation.

Less Money Wasted.

In a case where a client might need to divest of or cancel a project, good work and pursuant appreciation of the Token value may result in a positive financial return on their design investment rather than a write-off.

The use of tokens in the design industry would see the TIME it takes to complete a design – from concept, to detailing, and finally to completed built outcome – valued more accurately by the industry.

A Clearer and More Flexible Market.

The procurement of designers can be opaque and uncertain. Unfamiliar designers with hard-to-understand fee structures may be deemed a risk by clients and, in some cases, a project may need to be put on hold or cancelled for any number of reasons. In both scenarios, a strongly regulated and transparent token-based market would afford clients the opportunity to divest as they see fit, and, potentially, with the value of their original investment having appreciated.

Demonstrable Design Excellence.

Appreciation of a designer’s token will only occur if the demand for that designer grows – incentivising designers to create and demonstrate their best work. For clients, this means that the onus on the designers they invest in to do good work is enshrined in self interest – putting an end to the risk of the ‘bare minimum’ being delivered by close of contract. Genuine, quality design acumen would be paramount.

An Equitable Market for Designers.

In such a system, a designer negotiates the supply of labour in a collaborative manner, only offering services in accordance with their resources. Managed professionally and systematically, design labour could be calibrated not only to a client’s requirements and the designer’s expertise, but also to the mutual financial and cultural benefit of each party – improving life for both parties.

Demonstrated quality of design translates to growth of the token value & returns for the bearer.

The benefits of a Token Future currently contend with numerous uncertainties and challenges – much like any innovation. Though this concept remains a glimmer on the horizon, NFTs in the design industry promise better welfare, growth and profit.


As the design industry continues to chart a course towards automated production and an acceleration of the service economy, the rewards of exploring a Token Future for design labour outweigh the risks.

Jet Geaghan is an Architect based in Woods Bagot’s Sydney studio. For Jet, every building should be conceived with purpose, expertise and wit. Clarity of communication is fundamental to his work, whether it be in a design gesture, construction detail, or cultural testimony.

Having completed numerous additions and alterations projects, Jet relishes the complexity and challenges of adapting existing buildings to address evolving demands and unforeseen potential. His experience lends him a broad understanding of the myriad parameters involved in bringing buildings of differing scales to life, which have included the 275 Kent Street redevelopment and the refurbishment of InterContinental Hotel Sydney.

Jet has extensive experience with planning approvals, design, documentation, construction delivery, digital modelling, as well as a passion for the written word.