The Distant Summit of Enterprise Design

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Lately, I have been fascinated by mountain climbing. I am reading every book that I can find on the subject. As I sat down to write this review, I found the mountain climbing as a metaphor for enterprise design sticking with me. Milan Guenther’s book Intersection does an excellent job of showing us the view of enterprise design from the top of the mountain. Yet, I came away from reading it without the necessary lessons one gains from actually climbing to the summit.

On page 183, the author seems to reveal the why of what we’re reading:

“The intent of the Enterprise Design approach is to capture the enterprise in both design context and subject in a holistic fashion. To envision a future state beyond the isolated problem setting, designers need to be aware of the enterprise context it is embedded in…to develop conceptual models of the enterprise, to capture details that are necessary and useful during the design process by looking at the enterprise from a particular viewpoint.”

However, what follows is light on specifics for this conceptual modeling, either by example or application of this framework.

I was delighted to see that the author presents concepts similar to those found in Peter Checkland’s Soft System Methodology (SSM). In Checkland’s methodology, a design project must look at the enterprise as a larger system comprised of smaller systems. “Basically, all human endeavors have reached a level of scale and complexity that makes them interdependent on an ecosystem of interrelated organizations and technology.” (p18)

SSM also finds that developers are often asked to solve the wrong problems and that designers often find themselves in non-design roles. To avoid these problems, SSM also promotes an enhanced discovery stage, cross-discipline communication, and concept modeling to ensure that all viewpoints are captured.

In Intersection, Guenther’s foundation is that there are new kinds of information systems–people, processes, content management applications, network– that are smarter, pervasive, embedded, and ubiquitous. These systems are modular, often co-created, open (sourced) and interconnected, ubiquitous and mobile, intelligent and adaptive. They require a new approach.

Intersection is in three major segments:

Part 1: Design Enterprise–This section presents those concepts most similar to SSM.
Part 2: Enterprise Design Framework–This section is the most theoretical, making it difficult to rearticulate the exact nature of the author’s framework.
Part 3: Enterprise Design Approach–Here the author delivers the most practical application of his framework by mapping action to problem-specifics.

Gerd Waloszek has done Olympian work of synopsizing Intesection’s 463 pages in his SAP Design Guild Review of Intersection, with my gratitude for not having to repeat this labor.

The Enterprise Design Framework (part 2) is a connective framework that sees integrative or design thinking focused on connecting different domains, problem spaces, and viewpoints. To accomplish, it promotes:

  • Cross-silo cooperation

  • A focus on the big picture over core discipline challenges

  • A design scope that expands to include visuals, interactive systems, and service, and which continues to expand.

  • The design of (signs, objects, interaction, systems) that become the building blocks of an enterprise-minded design. “Design connects the enterprise with its cultural environment, and leads to a discourse on a meaningful, viable and feasible future.” (p 78.)

I would have liked the author to drill a bit further into this and provide some detail or examples of the meaningful, viable, and feasible future that would result from the application of his framework.

Content strategy and management fares less well with the author’s seeming viewpoint that content’s design goal is to merely enhance the meaning of content. Surely, that cannot be its only purpose. As @mikeatherton said at UX Cambridge 2013 “Content is the whole damned point” and so should exist beyond service to design or brand messaging. The subject of the enterprise, its “aboutness,” exists long before design emerges.

It does not seem rational to me that all other elements serve design. The enterprise content management industry will also take issue with the author’s generalization that “today content elements are only seldom regarded as assets for a potential enterprise-wide use” (p 171). The author then goes on to take enterprises to task for ignoring the “…mass of potentially relevant content lying asleep in archived email threads” (p. 171). Not only do these concepts run contrary to core content strategy beliefs, they are not problems solved through application of the framework.

The Good

  • This is a beautifully designed book with visually segmented content, headings, and color separation.

  • The At a Glance sections that end each chapter are helpful in retaining core concepts presented.

  • Part 3: Chapter 9, where the author directly applies the Enterprise Design Framework along with specifics that illuminate its seven phases:

    • Prepare (getting started)

    • Discover (explore the problem space)

    • Define (develop a solution approach)

    • Ideate (give form to the solution components)

    • Validate (prototyping for simulation and testing)

    • Implement (start the production and development)

    • Deliver (deploy to begin the transformation)

Each state is accompanied by state-specific activities, challenges, and typical techniques. It is here that the author’s convention of big picture components (identity, architecture, experience) and anatomy components (actions, touchpoints, services, and content) have better context and do not seem forced as in the chapters that precede it.

  • The VDA case study on p 176 and Instagram case study in Part 3 are the best at presenting a detail-oriented, mapped application of concepts to chapter topic.

The Merely OK

  • References to design, experience, and the enterprise are as high-level concepts throughout the book.

  • There are too many obtuse, sweeping statements that make the reader stop and think “Say what?” instead of “Tell me more.” For example, from page 212: “It is the user who attributes function.” Here I said to myself, “Say what? It is more like the user anticipates an outcome of function that is based on emotion, environment, or mental model.”

  • There is an emphasis on function modeling, with no examples or direction on how to accomplish this.

  • Many of the case studies do not do a good job of illuminating abstract thinking and concepts discussed prior, especially for the more esoteric concepts.

  • The table of contents in front and back of book index are beautifully designed yet not functional for re-finding specific concepts represented in the book. For example, the index lists a single reference to relevance for the entire book found on pages 225-226. Going to page 225, there is a section “RELEVANCE: placing a “spotlight” on a subset of objects which are important to the enterprise with regard to the business objectives, the people being addressed, and the structural context.” And, that’s it for relevance for the entire book, according to the Index.

  • White text on black background is not a fun reading experience.


This is a thoughtful tome, dense with deep, contemplative thinking on enterprise design. It has a rightful place on the bookshelves for designers that are intrigued by the challenge of cross-discipline collaboration.

However, designers looking for a better understanding of technology will be disappointed, and technologists looking for an understanding of the design world will be baffled.

In my armchair mountain climbing, I came across what has turned out to be a great life lesson from a climb master, the individual who remains at basecamp as the one to give the go/no go on summiting: “Success is not reaching the summit (of the mountain). Success is getting back to basecamp alive.”

I am glad to have my well-thumbed, heavily underlined copy of Intersection on my shelf as a reminder of the importance of the view from the mountain top. Now I need many of the Rosenfeld Media books to tell me how to get back to basecamp.

Intersection by Milan Guenther

Morgan Kaufman 2013

ISBN: 978-12-388435-0


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