Creative Culture

Human-Centered Interaction, Design, & Inspiration

Justin Dauer
Creative Culture
Published in
6 min readFeb 27, 2020


In 2015 I had enough.

After nearly a dozen consecutive years in agency design leadership — and being privy (personally and second hand) to so many of the negative dynamics associated with that world — I wrote an article for A List Apart called “Resetting Agency Culture.” The impetus for the piece was that there was a better way — a humble, people-first way — to treat employees, and one another. I had experienced this notion in practice, I had cultivated it personally, and I needed to broadcast those means from the mountain tops.

The article garnered near immediate, passionate feedback from people across multiple forms of media: web, print, television, radio, and so on. I understood these cultural issues were wider than the lens I had given them: it was less about the agency connection, and more about the human one. So in 2017 I released Cultivating a Creative Culture, painting upon a broader canvas: offering insight on finding a new best-fit role, up through someone’s engaging first day in that role, to day-to-day empathetic interactions, and onward with longevity.

Since then, I’ve worked to evangelize this message (in tandem with actionable methods) as much as possible, appearing on a myriad of podcasts, co-hosting my own podcast, writing guest articles, speaking at events domestic and abroad, and filming a video workshop for e-learning firm MentorBox. Effectively every waking moment not co-parenting or working my “day job” has been dedicated to this effort. Exhausting, but unquestionably worth it.

As a part of this journey, I’ve had the opportunity to engage in dialogues with many of you. For example, when I gave the opening keynote at the 2018 MidwestUX conference, I was also fortunate to sit in on “Presenter Office Hours” and have one-on-one conversations with attendees. I listened. I learned. The notion of being human-centered with one another at work resonated to such a degree that I hosted a second impromptu Office Hours the following day to get to everyone seeking to converse.

Copious dialogues like these over the past three years also confirmed an essential notion: design process often suffered from the identical themes that adversely impacted culture.

Lack of human connection.



But as these plagues had a commonality, so did the best practices. I had only scratched the surface of this in the first book: the notion of being human- centered has an innate synergy between design process (and ultimate product) and office culture (and empathetic interactions).

And so I began to research. Observe. Interview. Write, revise, and write some more. During that time, my second son was born (*write, revise, change diapers, write, and change diapers some more). What began with the original book’s theme became an organic and powerful evolution; less a dilution of focus, more the glue to the entire concept.

Introducing the second edition, and first evolution, of “Cultivating a Creative Culture” :

Beginning with the new cover illustration I wanted to make it clear: this book is all about connection.

We cannot preach outwardly about empathy for those we’re designing for if as designers, researchers, architects, developers (and on and on) we’re not supporting each other. The notion of being human-centered has an innate synergy between design process (and ultimate product) and office culture (and empathetic interactions). To the benefit of both dynamics, those touch points are identifiable and exploitable.

A “human-centered mindset” means people are at the center of everything in a business: empathy and compassion guide our hand across personnel, process, and product.

Creating with compassion in an environment fueled by compassion means we never lose sight of what it’s about: all people, inclusively. Beyond functioning in this manner because “it’s the right thing to do,” quality of design work, loyalty internally (team) and externally (users), and product innovation are all benefits to reap.

This book is around 60 pages longer than its predecessor, including:

  • a new design-focused chapter articulating the above correlations
  • updated content throughout all chapters based on continued research, interviews, podcast appearances, and speaking engagements over the past three years
  • insights for those transitioning into management
  • how to obtain senior stakeholder buy-in on evolving / upscaling your design practice to better serve those we’re creating for (and the environment they’re existing within)
  • new interviews with design thought leaders and related spatial observations
  • a tangible observation-based workshop (you can run in your own workspace) to help inform and inspire your digital work
  • actionable design insights for job seekers
  • a mini graphic novel section? conversation on the complexities of pixel art as a design medium? it’s true. all of it.
  • a new foreword by the humble-yet-brilliant Steve Portigal

As with the first edition, this book is a labor of my written word, and design-based, love; art direction, graphic design, logo design, photography, and layout. In tandem with that, I was also incredibly fortunate to collaborate with incredible people like Sara Cantor Aye and George Aye from Greater Good Studio, as well as Steve Portigal (as cited above), on some exciting new content. As a compliment to the first book’s first-hand wisdom from the likes of Andy Budd, Jaan Orvet, Jeffrey Zeldman, and Nick Sarillo, the collective insights on culture and design are staggering.

Creative Culture is now available for pre-order in hardcover, paperback, and eBook formats. Pre-order coming soon for audiobook. Full details (and more pre-order options) at the bottom of this article.

All 4 versions of the book will be available on June 23rd.

The hardcover edition (pictured above) is for those who appreciate the tangible heft and classic jacket-on-hardback presentation of their reading material. And if you happen to lose the cover, the typography-only under-jacket design is printed in the book’s “brand” green; a presentation unique to this version.

The good news is that if hardcover (or hardcover’s cost) isn’t your cup of tea, this version of the book doesn’t come at the expense of the eBook or paperback editions (pictured below, respectively) being released months later: all editions will be available simultaneously.

The details:

160 pages, full-color
ISBN-10: 1733445005
Preorder: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound

160 pages, full-color
ISBN-10: 1733445021
Preorder: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound

244 pages
ISBN-10: 1733445016
Preorder: Kindle / iBook / Nook

Preorder coming soon



Justin Dauer
Creative Culture

Designer, author, & speaker. Wrote "In Fulfillment: The Designer's Journey" and "Creative Culture."