Design Principle 9 — User Experience, Insights, Variety, New Knowledge

Tolstoy – Design


  1. How do we gain new knowledge by interacting with various events
  2. How the quality of a story or a process evolves by changing direction several times – the principle of bifurcation.

About the Author: (Leo Tolstoy)

Tolstoy designed a unique form of story telling for children – sometimes half a page (The Mother Eagle – the present case study) and at times even in four to five lines (‘The Indian Elephant’). Despite their unusual shortness, his stories are divided into three innate parts: Event à Reaction + Experience à New Knowledge à New Event…

The Mother Eagle

The mother eagle had built her nest atop a tree next to the highway, a long distance from the sea. Having laid the eggs, she started raising the little birds that hatched out of those.

One day, the mother eagle came flying back from the distant sea with an enormous fish hooked to her claws, and found some people busy doing something underneath the tree. Spotting the huge fish in the eagle’s claws, they surrounded the tree and started throwing stones at her, making a great noise all the while.

Eventually the fish slipped out of the eagle’s claws, and the people took it away.

As soon as the tired mother-eagle perched on the edge of her nest, the little ones raised their heads and began clamouring for food.

But the mother eagle was so tired that she no longer had the strength to return to the sea. So she hopped down into the nest and spreading here wings to cover her babies, started petting them. She carefully arranged and smoothened their tiny feathers, as though telling them – wait a little longer babies, just a little longer. But the more she tried to soothe them, the more they cried in their treble voices.

At last the mother fluttered her wings and swept away to a higher branch, away from her babies.

But the little birds kept crying out all the more piteously.

Suddenly the mother eagle let out a loud cry with all her strength.

Then she spread her wings and dragging her heavy body, flew off towards the sea. She came back well after nightfall, flying very low on slowly beating wings. But, like the last time, she had a big fish hooked to her claws.

Having reached the tree she looked around her carefully, checking for humans in the vicinity. Then she swiftly folded her wings and perched on the edge of her nest.

The eaglets parted their beaks and held up their open mouths. Their mother tore up the fish into little bits and fed them to their heart’s content.


  1. Notice that this short story has been told in three separate sections, which is structurally the strongest point of story telling or any process for that matter.
  2. The middle section contains the vital reaction of the mother eagle that leads to new knowledge. There lies the greatness of Tolstoy.
  3. In the middle portion, Tolstoy has inserted part of the eagle’s reactions with an account of her movements; how the exhausted mother eagle tries, for some time at least, to use affection as a substitute for food. The tired mother expects understanding from her children but the children do not realize their mother’s exhaustion.
  4. And then, the mother eagle seems to suddenly arrive at a moment of enlightenment. At the personal level, she realizes that she must meet her children’s primary need before she can expect understanding from them and that is her main and only responsibility. On the social plane, here mind blazes in protest against those torturers who have usurped the food she had procured, with great labour, for her children. Immediately, she cries out loudly. This cry expresses, not irritation with her children but the ecstasy of discovering two of life’s ultimate truths – one personal and the other social. Lesson for supervisors, officers and managers: primary responsibility – provision, and protest against wastages (social).
  5. The second section ends and the direction changes (sudden) – shown through a new movement. By now armed with new knowledge (by rejecting the older knowledge) the mother eagle’s character has undergone a change – it is marked by knowledge, inspiration and protest. Notice that this can’t be shown without bringing in the vital second section – the reaction part that leads to new knowledge. The story thus evolves and the quality changes.
  6. The secret of gaining new knowledge is revealed: Event à Reaction + Experience à New Knowledge à Try out à New Event à New reaction….
  7. We would also like the story because of the variety it provides – the mother eagle’s character is marked by variety. Variety is essential in whatever we do. But notice that the eaglets don’t provide variety. Therefore, the variety can only be provided by showing details as much as possible. The same principle applies to design thinking à focus on user experience to come up with new insights à new designs that help people to face and manage uncertainty. In fact, the principle might be applied to any human activity – providing variety. I leave it to you to reflect upon.

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One Response to “Design Principle 9 — User Experience, Insights, Variety, New Knowledge”

  1. Social Learning:A Case Study:No One No Thing « Design Innovation Says:

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