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A recipe for success: interview with Grand Prix winner, Without’s Philip Koh

We caught up with Philip Koh, Co-Founder and Strategy Director at Without, on the long-term impact of their DBA Design Effectiveness Award winning Modern Recipe brand for Sodexo, which won the Grand Prix in 2021. 

It’s been over two years since Modern Recipe changed the face of Sodexo’s corporate canteens and won the DBA Design Effectiveness Grand Prix Award. Briefly remind us about the original objectives and impact of the project.

Philip Koh, Without

Philip Koh: Sodexo provide corporate services to some of the world’s leading businesses. Their B2B approach however, focused on the corporate client, was struggling to connect with staff increasingly distracted by the high-street. As success began with happy customers using the space, we started with the end user: creating a modern, flexible, all-day brand that would connect with today’s professionals. This, in turn, became inherently appealing to forward-thinking facilities managers.

The impact of the new brand was clear. Immediately after launch, we saw a sustained 45% increase in utilisation, 13% increase in average transaction value, and within 6 months, the brand was winning a host of new multi-year, multi-million pound contracts with blue chip corporate clients.

What did the win mean to Without and how has it impacted on your business since?

PK: Without has always been an agency that delivers design not just for style, but for impact. The work we do works – whether for challengers looking to break into new markets, or global brands looking to confound expectations, our thinking solves problems effectively. So the Design Effectiveness Awards, with its panel of business experts, has always been one of the most important for us. And to win the Grand Prix – it’s something we’re very proud of. 

After the award win, it is clear that we’re having much deeper, strategic conversations with potential clients – the credibility that the award bestows has been really helpful in this regard.

Anecdotally, we know that clients do look at award lists for reassurance, and for us, this award is one of the best at establishing the value of our work.  

And because this is an award for the client as much as it is for the agency, we’ve seen a positive impact within the client organisation itself. A pride and confidence in the new brand, greater commitment to its growth, and much deserved recognition for the forward-looking individuals who took the bold decisions.    

Modern Recipe launched in 2017

Modern Recipe has gone from strength-to-strength. Bring us up to speed on recent developments? 

PK: Our original brief was to reimagine corporate catering and re-establish canteens as vibrant, valuable assets for Sodexo’s UK market. But the result, Modern Recipe, has been so successful in the UK that it’s been quickly adapted for the US market. With Sodexo’s North American team, we’re developing and evolving the brand to address not just the cultural nuances of the American audience, but to retool the brand kit to address wider markets – from corporate, to university and healthcare sectors. It’s now being rolled out across 300 client sites in the US – at a pace we could barely have imagined when we started the project.

In your view, how has entering and winning in the Design Effectiveness Awards influenced this success and your relationship with Sodexo? 

PK: It’s worth re-emphasising that the DBA Design Effectiveness Award is a joint award, for both client and agency. Entry into the award is itself a joint effort, and a successful entry requires collaboration. Simply making an entry together is a commitment to a deeper relationship, trust, and alignment with the client’s ambitions and goals. 

We’ve found that in entering and winning the award, we’ve demonstrated our focus on our client’s success, and this has helped build trust and credibility across their organisation. It’s opened doors to new conversations and new projects, one of which, a new product tackling the challenge of nutrition in schools, we hope will be a DBA Design Effectiveness Award winner of the future!   

Has it impacted the way you work with other clients too? 

PK: We’ve always approached projects with our clients’ goals front and centre, and our strategic and design processes have been honed over the years to focus on effectively harnessing creativity to deliver commercial outcomes. What the DBA award has taught us, is how to better track, measure and account for that success. It’s a long-term way of thinking with which we approach every client project. 

Also, the rigour with which the tracking, measuring and accounting is done is critical in demonstrating the value that design brings, and that can only be a good thing for our industry. Design is often undervalued – creativity isn’t easily accounted for in a budget line – so the DBA Design Effectiveness Awards plays a really important role.       

Modern Recipe | Sodexo and Without | 2021 Grand Prix and Gold winner

Entering the 2024 DBA Design Effectiveness Awards

The call for entries for the 2024 Awards is now open. The entry deadline is 5pm GMT 3 November 2023.


Find out more about the Awards and download an entry pack. 


Read Without and Sodexo’s Modern Recipe case study and browse all of the winners’ case studies.


You can also book a consultation with the DBA’s Strategy and Business Director, Sally Lukins on Calendly here.


These consultations are opportunities to discuss all things design effectiveness – from thinking through what might make a good entry to submit to the DBA Design Effectiveness Awards, to discussing working drafts of your entry case studies, or having a conversation about the practices within your business that would support a focus on creating effective outcomes and proving the impact of your work.

About Without

Without is a brand design studio helping pioneers define their difference. Founded by a historian and an engineer, Without understands the power of difference to defy, define and create categories. Since 2005 Without have helped beloved brands like Third Space, Savoir and Caravan to grow, build community and make life better, and in 2021 won the highest recognition of design effectiveness – the DBA Effectiveness Grand Prix. 

About: Philip Koh, Co-Founder and Strategy Director, Without

Philip Koh is founder and strategy director at Without, an award-winning brand design studio helping pioneers challenge the expected. Born in Malaysia, Philip studied engineering, economics and management at Oxford University before working as a researcher for The Sunday Times Fast Track 100. This atypical background, and his interest in the commercial impact of branding, inspires Without to step back and innovate without ego, preconceptions or limits.

Philip has helped take startups from founder’s concept to category leaders (Wahaca, Triptease), repositioned global brands for contemporary audiences (Wedgwood, Savoir), and challenged category conventions across sectors (Third Space, The Thinking Traveller).

Philip has twice won DBA Design Effectiveness Awards, including the Grand Prix in 2021 for transforming corporate catering with global food-at-work brand Modern Recipe.


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