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Book Review: Intersection

Book | Author | Review

By Gerd Waloszek, Design & Frontline Apps, SAP AG – July 23, 2013

This review takes a personal look at Milan Guenther's book Intersection – How Enterprise Design Bridges the Gap between Business, Technology, and People.

 

Book

Cover of Intersection

    

Milan Guenther

Intersection: How Enterprise Design Bridges the Gap between Business, Technology, and People

Morgan Kaufmann, 2012

ISBN-10: 0123884357, ISBN-13: 978-0123884350

Design

 

Author

Photo of Milan GuentherMilan Guenther is working as designer and consultant with an emphasis on business technology and research projects. His consultancy (eda.c) helps clients to create meaningful and useful overarching designs across their people/enterprise touch points. Additionally, Milan supports the Intranet Benchmarking Forum (IBF) as Benchmarking Lead on design and usability, enterprise portal design and employee integration. Milan has worked for over ten years as interaction designer and user experience professional for commercial/non-profit clients and in (applied) research settings.
(based on biography on Milan Guenther's homepage)

 

Review

Introduction to the Book and to the Enterprise Design Framework

When I was young, there were only three design directions I was aware of: fashion design, product or industrial design, and graphic design. Naïve as I was at the time, I understood the first to be responsible for fashionable clothes, the second for the design of cars, vacuum cleaners, Scandinavian furniture, and so on, and the third for book illustrations, stamps, and advertising. Much later, in my mid-40s, I encountered another design direction, which has since become my "home turf": User interface (UI) design – often disguised under such names as usability, human-computer / man-machine interaction, user-centered design, or even human factors. Fortunate to be able to attend conferences like CHI and Interact, I gradually became and felt like a member of this professional community. Our domain is, in short, the dialog between human users and computers, and we strive to make it as effective and efficient as possible. Some people, however, still believe that UI design is just about putting controls on a screen. Over the years, though, I learned that there are other design disciplines, such as experience design, interaction design, and critical design – to name a few – which overlap with or are similar to my own direction. I also learned that designers set out to broaden the scope of design in society. For example, the "Design Thinking" approach (article) encourages designers to bring their methods into the business world – by either taking part in business processes themselves or by training business people to use design methods. This trend is not limited to "Design Thinking" proponents – statements, presentations, and books from designers in this vein abound.

Milan Guenther's Intersection is just such a book. It is devoted to possibly one of the biggest challenges that designers can face: The redesign of large corporations and other institutions, that is, the transformation of enterprises (the author uses this "umbrella term" for "companies, organizations, public services, and other types of projects or endeavors") from an actual, unsatisfying state into a future, desired state. According to Guenther, such a daunting endeavor has to be addressed in a holistic manner in order not to lose direction and get discouraged by the myriads of details. In his book, he therefore tries to find a balance between dealing with complexity and maintaining a holistic view. He proposes and delineates an "enterprise design framework," which is comprised of 20 design aspects to be considered in strategic design initiatives. He clusters them into five groups that range from abstract concepts to concrete actions and are connected with appropriate design disciplines that serve as "methodological backbones." And that brings my introduction to the book full circle: All in all, Guenther's enterprise design framework brings 24 design disciplines into play – not just three, the number with which I started my introduction. And, of course, all of the directions that focus around my "home turf" are included in one facet or another: human-centered design (or user-centered design), a-kind-of UI design, experience design, interaction design, information architecture, media design, a-kind-of visual design, and more.

Note: For a more extended version of my introduction to the book, please read my UI Design Blink An Introduction to Milan Guenther's Book Intersection and to the Enterprise Design Framework It Presents.

Purpose and Audience of the Book

Let's take a closer look at the purpose of Guenther's book Intersection and its target audience. Above, I mentioned that the author is on a "mission" to support people who are involved in redesigning and transforming enterprises. He offers designers "a resource to apply design thinking and practice to challenges they consider relevant and important to tackle" – thus, extending the scope of design explicitly beyond its traditional domains. The book gives people engaged in such an endeavor "a thinking model, a methodological framework, and a vocabulary" to help them look beyond – beyond their immediate task, their own comfort zone and background, and the scope of their current project – and also help them appreciate and adopt unfamiliar viewpoints and practices. Thus, Guenther's book "promotes both a mindset and an approach enabling" its readers "to take a step back, and look at the big picture of everything that matters when approaching a difficult design challenge."

Considering the diversity of aspects that the framework includes and that the book discusses without going into too much detail, this statement seems to appropriately characterize the book. This view is also in line with the author's assertion that his publication "is not a hands-on book promoting definite methods or tools to be used in such a setting." Instead, his main goal is to uncover "the interrelationships and dependencies between the various concerns" that his readers will meet and how they can "align different conceptual decisions on common course." In the course of this review, I will investigate how the author tries to accomplish this goal.

Guenther points out that design "involves acting in a space of great uncertainty, making a series of conceptual decisions, and producing real outcomes. It means taking risks, embarking on a journey without a defined end, and chasing opportunities as they emerge. It requires working closely with your peers, partners, stakeholders, users, and customers, as well as developing a clear vision of where you want to be." He therefore wrote his book to help readers with that task and with the "particular design challenges at the intersection of business, technology, and people" – hence the title of the book.

Considering the purpose of the book, it is evident who the target audience is: Everyone involved in designing and transforming enterprises, such as – and here is Guenther's list – executives and strategists, designers and architects, consultants and technologists, entrepreneurs and visionaries, and especially those readers who "are not exactly clear how to describe what they do" and who are "always struggling with their official job title, or always creating their own roles." Looking at this list, I am tempted to ask whether the book is also for me, a UI design practitioner, and for my colleagues of various design disciplines who are typically only passively involved in strategic design initiatives and do not drive them. I will return to this question in my conclusions.

Overview of the Book

I will begin my investigation into how Guenther pursues his goal by providing an overview of his book Intersection. It starts with an introduction revealing why this title was chosen and the story behind the book. The introduction then outlines the book's target audience, discusses the relationship between design, strategy, and the enterprise, provides an overview of the book, and finally suggests how readers might use it.

The main section of the book is divided into three parts that I describe mostly using the author's own words:

  • Part 1, Thoughts on Enterprise Design, describes the thoughts behind the messages of this book, and provides the basic thinking to understand enterprise-people relationships, interdisciplinary work, and a design-led approach to strategic challenges. Here, readers will find the thinking model and the mindset (and also the vocabulary).
  • Part 2, The Enterprise Design Framework, is the main part of Intersection and describes the author's enterprise design framework. The author first gives an overview of the framework and then takes his readers on a journey across the 20 aspects that he and his partners at eda.c found relevant in strategic design work on the enterprise level. The aspects are grouped into five clusters: (1) big picture, (2) anatomy, (3) frames, (4) design spaces, and (5) rendering, each of which is covered in a chapter of its own. Thus, he starts out with a set of "big picture" questions to develop a conceptual design space and to finally arrive at concrete, tangible results. Here, readers will find the methodological framework.
  • Part 3, The Enterprise Design Approach, addresses the practical side of strategic design work. The chapter entitled Design Process maps the enterprise design framework to a typical design process consisting of seven stages: (1) prepare, (2) discover, (3) define, (4) ideate, (5) validate, (6) implement, and (7) deliver. The Design Programs chapter describes selected challenges in organizational design practice, covering topics such as strategy, themes, practice, and framework. Here, readers will find the approach.

Each chapter closes with an "at-a-glance" page offering a brief summary and a couple of recommendations. At the end of chapters 1 to 9, case studies illustrate the abstract concepts and ideas presented in the chapter with real-world design work that applies the respective aspects. Several of the case studies describe work done by the author's design consultancy eda.c.

All in all, a total of 24 approaches to strategic design challenges are portrayed within the 450 or so pages of the book, describing "professional practices, knowledge areas, and disciplines that pertain to the concerns being discussed in the book." The book closes with a brief outlook envisioning the enterprise as a "program", and characterizing the "social" and the "next-generation" enterprise.

See the appendix for a tabular and more detailed overview of the book.

Looking at the Enterprise Design Framework

As a second step in investigating how Guenther tackles his goal, let's look at his enterprise design framework and at the way he presents it. As mentioned, it is comprised of twenty design aspects, which are assigned to five groups representing a specific perspective and dealt with in a separate chapter. Each aspect is associated with a primary design discipline (the book describes four more disciplines that are not associated with an aspect, thus bringing the total to 24 design disciplines). All this is presented in Part 2 of the book, The Enterprise Design Framework. This section can therefore be regarded as the "core" of the book. Here, the author not only presents the design aspects, he also relates them to each other in a progressive manner in order to uncover "the interrelationships and dependencies" between them. I have to admit that it was this "connecting" of aspects that often made me lose track and that created an impression of, at least, "perceived" repetition. All in all, I found reading parts of this section tedious and laborious: Other readers may have different opinions on this. By the way, the author attempts to support his presentation of the framework visually by using dedicated font and background colors – I will come back to this below.

Because of my struggle with Part 2 of the book in particular, I thought about how I could make this section more accessible to readers who might have similar problems. Eventually, I came up with three approaches that I present in the following: (1) Revealing the structure of the chapters and sub-chapters in Part 2 for better advance orientation, (2) offering a tabular overview of the relevant elements of the enterprise design framework to have it available at a glance, (3) preparing a glossary with explanations of terms that are used throughout the book to familiarize oneself with the book's vocabulary.

Structure

In Part 2, The Enterprise Design Framework, the chapters and sub-chapters have a similar, albeit not identical, structure (I found major differences only after creating an Excel spreadsheet of each aspect's/group's structure...) that is also made visible through the use of the type style. Perhaps readers will find it helpful if I expose this structure for easier orientation during reading:

  • At the beginning of each chapter, the respective aspect group is introduced, including example(s), and a bullet-list overview given that briefly characterizes all the aspects in the group.
  • Each aspect is typically described using the following ingredients (though the order of these may differ from aspect to aspect and between aspect groups):
    • An introduction to the aspect, with example(s), is provided.
    • Relevant sub-aspects (depending on the aspect, these are types, factors, characteristics, ...) are listed and briefly described (in bullet-list style, using colored type); sometimes these are followed by one or more groups of further sub-aspects
    • Beginning with the anatomy aspects, the aspects already covered in preceding aspect groups/chapters are related to the current aspect (using type of their specific color)
    • Then the primary design discipline is described (using white type on a black background)
    • Certain facets of the design discipline are listed and briefly described (in bullet-list style, using colored type on a black background); depending on the design discipline, these may be sub-practices, approaches, characteristics, and so on.
    • A discussion (sometimes...)
  • At the end of each chapter, the author discusses how to design with the aspects in the current group and includes a list of how the aspects relate to the overall enterprise design project (in colored type).
  • Each chapter closes with an "at-a-glance" page.
  • Chapters 1 to 9 additionally offer case studies (Part 2 includes chapters 4-8).

Tabular Overview of the Elements of the Enterprise Design Framework

I also prepared a tabular overview of aspect groups, aspects, and their primary design disciplines. After several attempts to find a suitable presentation method, I found a tabular overview the easiest way to keep track of the enterprise framework as a whole. I also prepared a more detailed overview of the enterprise framework that includes sub-aspects, but is not as easy to glance over. I sourced it out to the appendix for space reasons.

Group Aspect Primary Design Discipline Focus/
Decisions
Group Description
Big Picture Identity Branding

Visionary

/

Strategic

The big picture aspects describe universal qualities that apply to enterprises of all kinds and sizes, regardless of whether their management bodies are aware of them and whether or not they have been consciously addressed. They provide a way to understand how an enterprise establishes human relationships and how it is perceived, experienced, and implemented by the people involved in its activities.
Architecture Enterprise Architecture
Experience Experience Design
Anatomy Actors Role Management

 

The anatomy aspects refer to a shift in perspective, from a macro-level of enterprise-wide qualities to the smaller scale, the enterprise as a microcosm. They can be seen as constituent parts of an enterprise-people relationship, to be taken into consideration in any strategic design project.
Touchpoints Touchpoint Orchestration
Service(s) Service Design
Content Content Strategy
Frames Business Business Design

Conceptual

/

Tactical

The four frames aspects of the enterprise design framework help develop conceptual models of the enterprise, to capture the details that are necessary and useful during the design process by looking at the enterprise from a particular viewpoint. They are used to look at prototypes from different perspectives, evaluating how well they work.
People Human-Centered Design
Function Requirements Engineering
Structure Content Strategy
Design Space(s) Communication Communication Design   The conceptual aspects belonging to the design space group lay the groundwork for the transformational goals of a strategic design initiative, spanning the space of design decisions and ideas, and forming the basis for designing concrete outcomes as the result of the design process.
Information Information Architecture
Interaction Interaction Design
Operation Business Architecture
Organization Organizational Design
Technology Technology Design
Rendering Signs Media Design

Applied

/

Operational

The term rendering is used is used in the same ways as in the field of 3D graphics, where a realistic image is created from a carefully crafted model: The conceptual work delivers a blueprint of the intangible aspects of the enterprise. The tangible outcomes of a design process, in the formats of signs, things, and places, have to work together as a system to implement the conceptual vision (implementation = rendering).
Things Industrial Design
Places Architecture
Other   Information Systems    
  Hybrid Thinking (Integrative Thinking)    
  Design-Led Innovation    
  Design Management    

Table 1: Overview of the elements of the enterprise design framework

Glossary

As mentioned above, Guenther's book also provides a vocabulary for designers who are engaged in strategic design initiatives. The third pillar in my attempt at making the book more accessible is therefore a glossary – a strategy that I have already applied several times when reviewing books that used, for me, unfamiliar terminology. This glossary, or better, sort of glossary (see appendix 2), because it does not provide "definitions" in the usual sense, but more or less cites the author's statements about and around the respective terms, includes all the aspect groups, aspects, and design disciplines portrayed in the book – and more. The glossary also provides pointers to the pages in the book that cover the respective terms. In this respect, the glossary that I have prepared is more like a "guide" to the book than a glossary in the conventional sense.

Applying the Enterprise Design Framework

Finally, as a third step in investigating how Guenther tackles his goal, let's ask how the enterprise design framework can be applied in a concrete design context. Although Guenther did not construe his book as a "hands-on book promoting definite methods or tools," he nevertheless – in a summary style – applies his framework in Part 3, The Enterprise Design Approach, to an idealized design process, representing a generic "Design Thinking" or design process and consisting of seven stages: (1) prepare, (2) discover, (3) define, (4) ideate, (5) validate, (6) implement, and (7) deliver. Guenther applies two of the aspect groups at any one time to a specific process stage. He does so in a kind of "round robin" style – at least for the first five phases. There is also a certain symmetry in how aspect groups are applied to the last four phases (see the figure on page 386 in the book or look at the table entitled Overview of a Typical Design Process in the appendix). This symmetry reminds me of celestial spheres and the music they generate... I am really wondering how Guenther accomplished this feat – or is it purely accidental?

For each stage, the author lists activities, challenges, and typical techniques in the form of a check list. He then briefly discusses how the two relevant aspect groups and their respective aspects have to be considered in the light of the current process stage. Guenther points out that he is only presenting an idealized model: "In reality, such a process does not exist" – it is just a guide to the designers' own individual approach that has to be adapted to the situation at hand. The chapter closes with useful general remarks on the design process and on how its focus changes as it progresses.

Bringing the enterprise design framework and the design process together, we can see that Guenther's process model relieves designers from having to observe all the 20 aspects and their interrelationships along the whole design process. Thus, one might rightfully argue that, in this respect, he more closely follows the science-oriented approach of separating concerns than applying a holistic, "designerly" view...

How to Use Intersection – Reading Suggestions

With the enterprise framework being a "complex beast" and the book having more than 450 pages, the question arises as to how one might profit from it most. In the introduction to Intersection, Guenther himself makes a number of suggestions on how to use and read his book, which I replicate in abbreviated form below:

  • As an introduction to strategic design, the various domains, disciplines, and approaches – this works, depending on your preference, by reading either in a linear or a chaotic fashion
  • As a link between otherwise disparate concerns and a way to align them – you can start with an aspect close to your own field and go on from there
  • As a guide in challenging projects – look at the most relevant aspects in your context, then explore the references to others
  • As a reference for aspects and concerns – you can use Intersection like a dictionary (based on the book's index, I assume)
  • As a thinking aid for arriving at an overall vision – map the framework to your context and go through the aspects to be addressed

Particularly if you are using the book as an introduction to strategic design and the field as a whole, the author suggests that it can be read in any order. Based on my own experience, I would not adhere to this proposal and instead read it, at least at the beginning, from cover to cover, because, particularly in Parts 2 and 3, the chapters and sub-chapters are arranged in a progressive manner. For example, aspects relate to other aspects that were already described in previous chapters, or design process stages are described in their, admittedly, "idealized" order. I would therefore suggest that you skim through the book first, omitting details, and then change to a more interest-driven or arbitrary reading behavior. But to acquire a solid mental model of the overall enterprise design framework and its integration into a design process, I personally find a linear reading order indispensable.

I am not sure how well the book fares as a guide or as a reference. The author himself points out that this is not a hands-on book that promotes specific methods or tools. Therefore, I think that it can guide readers only at a more abstract level. If the book went into detail, it would – considering the many aspects and design disciplines it addresses – probably span about 4,500 pages, not 450. The same applies to a certain degree if the book is used as a reference. In addition, I feel that to become a really useful reference, the book might profit from some improvements and additions. In my addendum to the review below, I suggest a few ideas that came to my mind when engaging with the book.

Brief Discussion and Conclusions

As I approach the end of my personal review of Milan Guenther's book, Intersection, I have to admit that I left out many important aspects covered in it. As always, my review is comprised of a somewhat arbitrary, personal selection of topics. As the past has shown, each of my reviews is different. In this review, I focus on ideas for making the book more accessible – both to me and to potential readers. I will therefore leave the judgment as to whether the book accomplishes its purpose mainly to its readers and just mention some arguments "for and against." Considering the author's suggestions for using his book, there are many ways in which it is able to accomplish its goals, but also many in which it might fail to do so. One reason for failure might be just the author's balancing act regarding the content, leaving readers to decide how they want to deal with it and use it. As an introduction the book might provide too much information, as a guide or reference too little. This might disappoint readers who have either of these expectations. The readers' professional background can be another cause of success or failure. With my background in science, I tend to have problems with books written by designers – Intersection is not the first book where I made this observation. Books written by designers often contain – at least to my taste – to much redundancy and repetition, while I prefer conciseness and a logical progression of arguments. Instead, some designers arrange their books like a "bouquet" for their readers to choose from. Furthermore, like authors from other disciplines, they use their own terminology and often do not leave their "closed world," making it hard for me to profit from their explanations. I observed this tendency in Guenther's book as well, but I would like to point out that he really does make an effort to illustrate abstract concepts with real-world examples and case studies. Anyway, this is not the first book for which I have created a glossary. I do not think that other readers will necessarily want to go to all that effort as well, though...

You may have observed that, for me, the contrast between designers and more science-/engineering-oriented professionals has become a long-standing theme. But I find this debate refreshing and, again and again, it leads to interesting thoughts and viewpoints. One of the recent arguments that designers put forth when emphasizing their aptness for guiding and leading strategic design initiatives is that they maintain a holistic point of view and that, unlike people with a science or engineering background, they are not blinded or paralyzed by details. Located on the other side of the trench, I am somewhat skeptical with regard to such statements. To exaggerate my point somewhat, I view designers like butterflies who jump from flower to flower and become dizzy when thinking about all the connections and interrelations between flowers/design aspects. But, as the book shows when Guenther applies his framework to a general design process, designers, too, focus on specific aspects when this seems appropriate. So there is hope for finding common ground.

The question remains of whom I would recommend Guenther's book to. As mentioned above, he defines his target audience clearly, and I agree with him. But is his book also a good read for design practitioners like me? I cannot answer this question conclusively. I would say "yes" if you want to understand what is happening in your own enterprise today and if you are willing to make a considerable effort. So this is actually a "yes, but" recommendation. For design practitioners, a "narrow-track" version of Guenther's book might be more appropriate: a version that briefly presents the framework, its aspect groups or central themes, and the aspects – including examples – and that illustrates them with the case studies in the book (I would refer to the design disciplines only very briefly). This combination might result in a very readable book of about 150 pages in length, which has a good chance of being mastered in a couple of days.

By the way, one of the case studies describes strategic design initiatives at SAP. This was, naturally, an interesting read for me, but I ask you to forgive me not commenting on this: Such projects can look very different, depending on how you are involved in them.

Addendum: A Few Comments, Suggestions for Improvement

Finally, I would like to add a few comments and make some suggestions for further editions of the book.

In the past, I have sometimes criticized books that were written by designers but were nevertheless wastelands of text without any images. Guenther's book has all the hallmarks of a designer, boasting photos, figures, diagrams, icons, and the use of various type styles. Regrettably, however, I have to admit that I find some of these ingredients not as effective or helpful for me as I expected, such as black page backgrounds (try to print those on an inkjet printer), the use of underscores and capitalized headlines, icons that are too abstract for me, and schematic diagrams that are redundant with the text. To me, it also looks as if the author overdoes his type styling a little bit... This is, of course, just a personal opinion or observation – other readers may find all this helpful.

For my review, I used a PDF version of the book provided by the author and read it with GoodReader on an iPad because I wanted to highlight text passages – the iPad's native iBook app does not allow highlighting in PDF files. With this combination, I made some special observations that mostly turned out to be specific to the iPad. Guenther uses colored type for presenting aspect groups. He uses green type for "big picture" and blue type for rendering aspects. Both are hard to read on the iPad screen, with green being even worse than blue. In addition, when a black background is used, which is the case for primary design disciplines, some text colors (orange, red) cannot be highlighted in GoodReader. In addition, when highlighting magenta text on a black background, I get a nice stereoscopic effect, because the highlighted text is displayed in red and retreats to the back. Only at the end of my review did I discover out that the iPad displays colors differently from my laptop computer – where they are darker and easy to read. All this demonstrates that electronic books make designing books even harder than designing print versions alone because of the differences between different display types and potential peculiarities of reader applications. I am sure that there are no reading issues with the print version of the book, but I could not verify this.

The color discussion leads me to suggest a few potential improvements for a forthcoming edition of the book. Some printed books – like field guides for flowers – feature colored page edges so that readers can easily and directly access pages showing, for example, red flowers. This might also be applied to the aspect groups in Part 2 of the book, although, admittedly, the connection between aspect groups and colors is arbitrary and, therefore, cognitive psychology tells us that this would be less effective.

My other suggestions follow the route of helping readers stay oriented while wading through the many aspects of the enterprise design framework. One idea that came to my mind is to offer overviews, similar to the ones that I present in my review, on cards that readers can take out or fold out of the book. In the latter case, one overview might be attached to the front cover and show the enterprise design framework, while another one might be attached to the back cover and show how the framework is integrated into the design process. I also thought about designing (myself) more effective overviews than the ones that I offer here, but I came to the conclusion that I ought not to take work away from the author...

I would also like to suggest that, in a new edition of the book, the author should offer a glossary of important terms, but perhaps not consisting of citations from the book as my glossary does, but providing "real" definitions instead. Such a glossary would allow readers to quickly look up a definition whenever they encounter an unfamiliar term (I often forget their meaning anyway and have to repeat this over and over). Using the index for this purpose was cumbersome for me, particularly because there are often quite a few references that readers may have to inspect. The glossary would blow up the book, but I think that it would be worth it. It might even be manufactured as a small booklet to take out while reading so that readers need not leave the current page.

 

References

See appendix

 

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