Creativity and Principles in the Flourishing Enterprise

Richard Buchanan, Professor of Design, Management, & Innovation, Case Western Reserve University

For all of our sophisticated and often technical discussions of user experience, there is one area of experience that we have found difficult, if not impossible, to consider with the same degree of sophistication. In a time when we are obsessed with big data and facts, we have forgotten how to talk about principles and creativity without resorting to theories of cognitive psychology and the social sciences. My presentation will introduce a different perspective on creativity that goes beyond the craft of design process and will explore what principles are as the foundation of the flourishing enterprise. We are coming to a time when our ability to understand what is significant in human experience will affect not only the users of our products and services but all of those who participate in our most creative enterprises.

Uday Gajendar introduced our closing speaker, Dick Buchanan. We have had quite a lineage of closing speakers at Enterprise UX. David Gray (2015), John Maeda (2016), and last year we had Mark Templeton. We are continuing that lineage and level of discussion today.

Dick studied rhetoric at the University of Chicago, and then was the head of the school of design at Carnegie Mellon. He established the MA and PhD programs in Interaction Design. He is currently at Case Western Reserve, where he is looking at things like what we’ve talked about here. He is a done significant work in service design on a large scale (USPS, for example). When Uday was in the Interaction Design program at CMU, there were about 20 students left in this seminar, towards the end of the semester. They were wrapping up the semester, and he calmly wrote down the canonical steps of user-centered design. If someone was to walk in right now, read these steps and perform these actions, are they designers?

Uday said there must be something more. He introduced the idea of noumenal; there is an X-Factor beyond those steps. It was like Morpheus introducing the Matrix to Neo in the movie The Matrix. This closing keynote will hopefully likewise open our mind in new ways.


He felt like he was home this week, with real people that make a difference. He has been working a lot with management and with executives, because he thought that designers needed to understand organizations really well, and organizations need to better understand design.

There are three things he wants to talk about today:

  • A new kind of design practice, which he has seen signs of here
  • The nature of principles, he has heard the term a lot here, but not in the same way he uses it
  • A little about creativity

Design Practice

We created three interaction design programs at CMU in the 1990s:

  • Rhetoric of experience
  • The second was poetics of experience – making of a fulfilling, unified whole
  • A new product development (NPD) course

Design Thinking emerged and continued from the third course. The realized that NPD needed to include engineering, and also that Marketing and Strategy had to be part of design. That is the nature of design thinking. We had to change the old concept of marketing. Historically it was about selling products, finding segments, and pressing ahead with products. The new Marketing is about preparing users or customers for the new kind of products that will emerge. You won’t find it a lot, but it’s a form of marketing that is gathering strength. The old Strategy involved looking at competitors, but the new strategy is understanding what that future world will be. Design thinking has to consider new technologies and other things as well. Those three features make effective Design Thinking, but their programs were unusual in that respect.

He sees evidence of Design Thinking here, but our work doesn’t appear to bring us as close to New Marketing / Strategy.

He feels that slides often get in the way of understanding, but he is going to show a few.


The curious moment comes with third order design – activities, services, processes. It’s about how human being relate to one another, and how we design our relationship. That is fundamentally what this group is about. Here is where it gets a little funny. But at the same time, there is going to be another practice that emerges. We were doing big projects like Australian Taxation System, and also the products and services of the US Postal Services ($3M in a non-competitive bidding situation). They did it because they knew the other consulting companies, but they thought that people was key. This move into environments, organizations, and systems – that is fourth order design. He wants to explain that carefully.

Fourth order design is about understanding that structure. What he has taken away of this meeting. A few have touched on fourth-order issues. John’s presentation on Salesforce touched on it. But if a company is working the way he says, it’s a curious matter. Over the past 10-15 years, there are 15-20 design firms doing ThinkPlace, Second Road Thinking (by Accenture). Hard to characterize what they do. He has called it Dialectical Design. Looking back, he reflects on how they worked. It won’t make a lot of sense to you as a term,. The common practice is a discussion, a conversation – a strategic conversation at a very high level in an organization, where conversations take place in an effort to find the core ideas that animate the work we do. A good strategic conversation can take months.


A dialectic is when two people are talking together. In the fourth order, the designer become a facilitator. This is a very curious thing. We like to think that we’re super, but we’re not. George Nelson said that we are a humble service profession and it is less significant than the lives of the people we serve.

What do we mean by experience in an EUX conference? This idea is still molten, still taking shape. He is less interested in user experience, but rather in the experience of people. He is not interested in lifestyles, but rather in their life. There is something distinctly different in John’s presentation. He is looking at the individual lives of people both inside and outside the company. That begins to look towards a value or a principle. We didn’t explore these deeply. Herb Simon would call them rules of thumb, rather than a principle.

A principle is more than just a guideline. An idea or a value that gives unity to an enterprise, a system, a product, or an experience. Not only are some of us moving into fourth order design. But down deep we are looking for principals, and we don’t know how to talk about them. There are more and more designers asking why do we design? why do we do this? There are principles that guide our actions. They need to be discovered and shared. Doing good for people 0 that’s bullshit – no ideas what good looks like until you

Systems Thinking is a great way to analyze, but it won’t tell you how to act – to change the situation you need design.

John ?? who introduced sustainability. He said the concept is dead because we don’t know what to sustain. As a phrase or a principle, it doesn’t tell us what to sustain. Rather than sustainability, he thinks the word is flourishing communities, flourishing organizations. That is a principle for him. There are other principles – like John’s concern for humanizing. There are first principles, the deep ones are ones we value and understanding. How does that principle work it’s way into the products and the relationship and the people? He is going to invite 15-20 people to talk about this in Shanghai – it has to be non-trivial discussion. Surprised how often it has been surfaced – it is in the area. Big companies have forgotten principles. How do we embed them in the services that are provided. Designers need to discover those But we have to avoid being caught up too much in processes and techniques.

We are on the verge of new discussions. What he sees emerging is stunning, surprising. All over the world, there are projects taking shape that are engaging social innovation and transformation, Designers are facilitating those, and letting people carry it forward. There is a book coming out in Australia about fourth order design, he will write the introduction. That work has exploded into all sorts of other services there. He spoke in South Africa about fourth order design, and they changed their taxation system there as well. This kind of spread, a new way of engaging. We saw the broader social impact in some presentations today – like the designmatters effort, those impressed him. That is the new practice he is taking about. An interesting transition from the interaction work we’ve been doing. Moving into these new areas is remarkable.

Philip Kotler wrote about Humanistic Marketing.


Users are creatures of designers and whims – and we design for those. In China they create those. Strangers have a want or a need to be served by us. Neighbors are people who have wants and needs that evolve and change over time. You treat them differently, meeting them as they change and evolve. Friends are people whose lives we want to enrich, not just commercially. That becomes a very significant driver.

Just as the provider has a notion of the user, so too does the user have a notion of the provider:


There are foes. Strangers wants products and specifications, it’s not a whim or a desire, but a specific want and need. This third – the neighbors see the company as a helper, and that’s a different kind of interactive relationship. The last one – friends. Is there a company or product that you like so much that when the product fucks up, you want to help the company. We all know of companies, that we make up the extra distance (service recovery). It’s a bond between us and the provider that is unusual. In serving the friends, the goal is to enrich their lives, and it’s not entirely commercial. Providers are gracious, and they do a little extra. Sometimes they just do a little extra. A test for employment – when someone arrives at a hotel at 10 pm, can you read them? Do they want to talk? Do they want to sleep? That is how they make hires, on the ability to read what the customer wants and needs

In China, they will not be able to eat our lunch (yet) because their companies still hinge on second order manufacturing and software. That is what this is about:


The culture in China is facing that as a problem. They have to get past first and second order design. WeChat is an amazing app, and there are other local brands like Bidu emerging. Lou Chi was EVP at Microsoft. He is a powerful, intelligent man. Hired to be COO at Bidu but he is resigning. They said that he was leaving for family reasons, and to return to the United States but the truth is somewhat different. There was a conflict of principles – he was trying to move them from serving creatures to something more.

Bidu is facing a problem – search results being driven by advertisers that didn’t deliver good services. Are you moving to third and fourth order relationships? Each company has to find it’s own principles. Whether you have access to them or not – whether you are moving up into those conversations. We are dealing with third and fourth order issues. That is where the Chinese would like to go, but they aren’t there yet.


He hates this word, because the cognitive psychologists have taken it over. Herb Simon would talk about it as information processing in the brain. He describes it as a surge of early successful experiences, brought into the present. Dick loves the clarity and simplicity of that, but he thinks that idea is not adequate. It occurs in the mind, not in the brain.

Creativity has a history in western culture. We have used different words. Now we use innovation. We give names to the things we know. The name fixes the concept, and the category. We have to have those, but the trick with creativity is how to break categorical meanings to finding new meaning.

There are ways of doing this – for example, we juxtapose two words and find something new. For example, Ford grew up on a farm, and he saw the city as a place that was vibrant and active. He wanted to merge them, thought they were categorically separate. How could they be a shared space of thought? To merge them in your imagination and see a possibility of a new meaning, you move the category of meaning somewhere else.

We did this in the 1960s. We used to call them old people and young people. Later, we started to talk about older people as elders. It is an invention that occurred. We find ways to melt down the differences and invent a new possibility. What does it mean to have an urban / rural distinction? The invention occurs in the mind. Discover new facts about the world enables invention. Ford got a job as a mechanic, and learned how to make parts and machines. That enabled him to think about things he hadn’t thought about before.

The third step is innovation. Someone went to Chicago, and saw hog carcasses moving down the conveyer belt for butchering, Someone got the idea about doing that for car manufacturing,. The innovation comes when two stories comes to gather, and a spark crosses and we see a connection. For Ford it was the assembly line. Then they made a big motor, and eventually the whole car. Ford was so significant in Europe, because the realized it was incredibly creative.

There is a fourth is intuition. It’s not used much. It has a significant history in western culture. It is the ability to see a connection, and one that it is so important you can build a system out of it. Human beings have the ability to make connections, they are made in the mind. Do you know the history of Henry Ford? The funny thing about Ford is that he had the idea to double everyone’s wages. Everyone told him it was counterintuitive. But he realized that by doubling their wages, that they would buy care and fuel the economy. He had the intuition about the system. The press was brutal, but in the end he was right.

We can change perception by merging ideas. The value is all about an invention. You have these immense computer systems, what if you could make it personal? Invention quickly becomes an established fact. Discovery comes with a team that understands how to scale down the size of the chip, the body, and then the changes come quickly. Two weeks ago Apple listed their new features. In Tim Cook’s interview, he said they are shifting the attention from the features to the user. But that is a principle that has been operational at Apple for a long time. Yet all the press focused on was the new features. We seem to have lost the ability to talk about principles – we have become obsessed with facts and data.

We have moved from facts and data to finding significance. Down deep you are looking at what the experiences of humans beings ought to be – flourishing. There was a word called ubuntu – which meant the essential human qualities of South African life. It means, literally, shaking hands. But metaphorically, it means taking good care of each other, which he knows is what we are trying do to here.


The first three are teachable. How do you teach people to be intuitive? He teaches a course on creativity. He got his highest ratings every, he thinks because he lets the students do their own things. They are smart an experienced.

You get to principles through discussions, but most people don’t know how to talk about them? There are ways to structure that discussion, encourage those ideas. In design we are made for that kind of work. They enjoy participating when they get to the results. We have a way of suspending disbelief. There are a lot of ways, we are understanding it more and more. These are practicers that are taking shape around us. There are very good designers that know about this, that do this. For examples, Stanford had a summit on law and design with judges and lowers and NGos. They were talking about fourth order design. The conversation took the form of dialectics. Constitution is a skeptical dialectic.

Some literature recommendations? There is book coming out from Australia, Routledge. Does anyone here read Design Issues? It is published by MIT press, it has a circulation of 35K, it is translated in Chinese and Spanish. He work has been mostly in rhetoric, and more recently in dialectical.