Cover of The Soul of Design by Lee Devin and Robert D. Austin
The Soul of Design
Harnessing the Power of Plot to Create Extraordinary Products
Lee Devin and Robert D. Austin


192 pages.

Hardcover now $19.00 (50% off)

Hardcover ISBN: 9780804757201
Ebook ISBN: 9780804784962

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Excerpts and More

What makes the Apple iPhone cool? Bang & Olufsen and Samsung's televisions beautiful? Any of a wide variety of products and services special? The answer is not simply functionality or technology, for competitors' products are often as good.

The Soul of Design explores the uncanny power of some products to grab and hold attention—to create desire. To understand what sets a product apart in this way, authors Lee Devin and Robert Austin push past personal taste and individual response to adopt a more conceptual approach. They carefully explore the hypothesis that there is something within a "special" product that makes it—well, special. They argue that this je ne sais quoi arises from "plot"—the shape that emerges as a product or service arouses and then fulfills expectations. Marketing a special product is, then, a matter of helping its audience perceive its plot and comprehend its qualities.

Devin and Austin provide keys to understanding why some products and services stand out in a crowd and how the companies that make them create these hits. Part One of the book introduces the authors' definition of plot in this context; Part Two breaks down the components needed to build a plot; Part Three describes what makes a plot coherent; Part Four takes on the challenges of making coherent products and services attractive to consumers. Part Four also presents detailed casework, which shows how innovators and makers have successfully brought special products to market.

Readers will come away with a sensible and clear approach to conceiving of artful products and services. This book will help managers and designers think about engaging with plot, taking aesthetic factors into account to provide consumers with more special things.

About the authors

Lee Devin is a Dramaturg at People's Light, an Emeritus professor of Theatre and Senior Research Scholar at Swarthmore College, a member of Actors' Equity, a Certified Scrum Master, and a Consultant for the Cutter Consortium Innovation Practice. With Rob Austin, he is the author of Artful Making; What Managers Need to Know about How Artists Work (2003).

Robert D. Austin is Dean of the Faculty of Business Administration at the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, former professor of Management of Creativity and Innovation at Copenhagen Business School, and former Professor of Technology and Operations at Harvard Business School. His book, The Adventures of an IT Leader (2009), has won accolades for its "novel" approach. Formerly a manager at Ford and Novell, he is a frequent advisor to multinational firms.

"Their approach is wildly unconventional, as they consider extraordinary products in the context of art, complete with the trappings of plot, trajectory, and resonance. . . It's the latest in a series of books about design thinking in business, but it brings in a fresh perspective."


"I love this book. It will have a great impact on the discussion of design's application to management, shifting the conversation in some very important ways. Devin and Austin stretch our minds to teach us that good managers design, good designers manage, and good workers are whole human beings with both their left and right brains engaged."

—Fred Collopy, Case Western Reserve University and coeditor of Managing as Designing

"Many books try to rationalize the design process—make designers look at the world as managers. This book helps managers to see the world as creatives do. This perspective, the idea that magic must have its space for companies to succeed today, can propel a business. Executives should put their spreadsheet projections of the future aside for a bit and read this book instead. It will teach them how to create the future."

—Rasmus Bech Hansen, Brand Expert and Strategy Director, Venturethree

"What a brilliant idea: To take the practical principles of the earliest 'How To' guide, Aristotle's Poetics, and apply them to a modern business model! We in the theater know how to tell a story and, to us, Aristotle is as practical a guide as Warren Buffet is in the investment world. Readers will be entertained and led by The Soul of Design."

—Anne Cattaneo, Dramaturg, Lincoln Center Theater

"Managers and marketers too often forget to take their product seriously. Austin and Devin help them to refocus on the commercial power of what Kant would call the product in itself. Their philosophical approach helps us understand the inner force in very special products, such as Vipp's gorgeous trash bins or Bang and Olufson's mind blowing televisions. Leaving the mainstream of applied psychology and sociology, so familiar to the study of business, this book decodes of the mysterious and unpredictable 'WOW factor."'—Pierre Guillet de Monthoux, Copenhagen Business School and author of The Art Firm

"This book is about love—the love for products. You don't get love from your customers by asking them what they like. Love is about proposing stories that go beyond expectations—as this book teaches. It will help us to pen more stories in the form of special things."

—Roberto Verganti, author of Design-Driven Innovation