The Soul of Design: Harnessing the Power of Plot to Create Extraordinary Products

The Soul of Design: Harnessing the Power of Plot to Create Extraordinary Products

The Soul of Design: Harnessing the Power of Plot to Create Extraordinary Products

The Soul of Design: Harnessing the Power of Plot to Create Extraordinary Products


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.


An elegant woman, slight of stature, apparently in her fifties, stands at the front of a class listening as a twenty-three-year-old poses a question that’s actually a veiled criticism. Responding, the woman repeats something she said earlier. She struggles with a remote control, moving back through four or five PowerPoint slides to show something she’s shown before. She apologizes for her English, which is in fact eloquent. When she chooses an unusual word, or constructs a sentence oddly, you recognize a better expression of her ideas than anything you thought she might say. But some in the room don’t hear the poetry, or it doesn’t persuade them. A murmur ripples through the crowd as young people shift in their chairs.

Jette Egelund, chair of a company called “Vipp,” has accepted an invitation to lecture to “Managing in the Creative Economy,” a class at the Copenhagen Business School, about her experiences growing the company. But now the students—some of them— have begun to lecture her. They hasten to offer Ms. Egelund their . . .

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