​​© 2019 Retail and Luxury Goods Club, a student club of Harvard Business School

Business of Aesthetics

Course Number 1565

Senior Lecturer Pauline Brown
Spring; Q4; 1.5 Credits 
14 sessions

Career Focus

Aesthetic businesses sell goods and services that elicit pleasure in their customers and desirability among those who aspire to them.


What are examples of "aesthetic" businesses? For starters, they are businesses that make and market beautifully designed products, like Hermes scarves or Cartier bracelets. However, their appeal may extend well beyond their visual design and tap into other sensory perceptions. For example:

  • Dom Perignon champagne delights its customers' gustatory senses;

  • Chanel fragrances are pleasing to the olfactory senses;

  • Bose stereo systems are designed for auditory pleasure; and

  • Loro Piana sweaters are made for tactile comfort.


Moreover, the value of aesthetics is hardly confined to luxury products. Other examples of highly aesthetic businesses include: Apple, Nike, Disney, Starbucks and even Federal Express.

The Business of Aesthetics is a new course for second-year students who are considering careers in sectors and companies whose financial value is based largely on their ability to deliver aesthetic value.


The course will enhance students' ability to experience and appraise businesses through the senses - a critical and oftentimes under-developed skillset for corporate executives, entrepreneurs and investors alike.


Educational Objectives

The Business of Aesthetics will be taught through a combination of case studies, a field project and guest speakers from fields like fashion, hospitality, architecture, specialty retail, food service and entertainment.


Students will analyze the issues and challenges of running an aesthetic business through multiple lenses:

  • Strategy: The course will begin with a look at the strategic risks and disadvantages of companies that have under-invested and/or degraded the aesthetic elements of their businesses. Students will study strategies for re-instilling and preserving aesthetic value as well as leveraging it for long-term financial gain and competitive advantage.

  • Managerial: Students will explore the challenges that business leaders commonly face in managing artistic and creative resources and, conversely, the challenges that leading designers and artisans often face in scaling and sustaining their operations.

  • Organizational: Students will study how to build and support the right culture, organizational structure, and decision-making processes of aesthetic businesses.

  • Financial: The course will assess the tradeoffs between short-term financial gains and long-term investments required to build and sustain aesthetic value.

  • Analytic: The course will experiment with new methodologies and techniques for quantifying and measuring aesthetic value and will develop innovative strategies for enhancing such values without undermining financial and operational objectives.


By the end of the course, students will emerge with the understanding and sensitivity needed to manage aesthetic businesses successfully. They will fine-tune the judgment, style and finesse needed to balance economic and creative interests, and they will gain insight into the importance of hiring and retaining the right talent as well as investing in the right resources for long-term advantage.


Course Content and Organization

The course consists of 14 sessions and includes fieldwork and a final project. Grading is based on class participation (50%) and the project (50%).


The project will be built around a company-specific challenge, which students will address as part of diverse (multidisciplinary) teams.