top of page
  • Writer's pictureCat Ryan

The beautiful design of humans - the Enneagram

To design for and communicate with humans, we must first understand them.

What really drives a human to do the things they do? Why do some people behave differently in the same situation?

Someone’s personality style controls how they see and experience the world — how they process information, behave, and communicate.

I have used numerous personality models such as MBTI and DISC to understand humans — all of which have been useful to a degree. When I discovered the Enneagram, I nearly wet my pants — it is without a doubt the most powerful tool in understanding humans and the way we operate.

Most other personality models provide a set of traits or behaviours. The Enneagram goes beyond behavioural attributes and characteristics to address unconscious, core motivations and fears that drive our behaviours, interactions and needs. What this means is we can address the cause — not the symptom. We can design to the underlying motivation allowing us to communicate more effectively and design experiences that resonate at a deep, core level.

The Ennagram points at the motivation driving the defences, personality and subsequently — behaviour


Using the Enneagram

So what is the Enneagram?

Fundamentally, it is a psychological map that explains nine different personalities — nine ways of seeing and being, nine core motivations.

Using the Enneagram, I’ve been able to create much richer, more robust customer personas and archetypes that have enabled me to design more meaningful experiences for different personalities with different core drivers.

The Enneagram is not only useful for designing for and communicating with customers though — it has powerful implications at an organisational level. Through understanding people in the workplace — their strengths, weaknesses and drives — we’re able to more effectively design cohesive teams that work together and improve cultural discourse. Every Enneagram type has a unique strength to contribute, making each type an integral part of a high performing team if they are allowed to perform a role that serves their core motivation and leverages their innate style.

And — as you likely already know — integrated teams of highly functioning individuals is at the heart of service design. Customer experience is only a reflection of the inner workings of an organisation — if it’s disjointed on the inside, so too the customer experience is fragmented.


The Enneagram Styles

Each Enneagram style has a unique perspective, motivation and fear. What this means is that each Enneagram type will process information differently, and react differently. For instance, a Style 1 and a Style 7 will make completely different interpretations of the same information and respond in different fashions.

The Enneagram
The Enneagram

The Enneagram map — compliments of the Integrative Enneagram — the awesome place I got my certification


Style 1: The Strict Perfectionist

“I must do the right thing”

My style

  • Conscientious, Self-Controlled, Rational, Principled

  • I need to have integrity, be good, be right

  • I’m afraid of being wrong, defective, corrupt

Core Motivations: I need to be right, align myself to my ideals — I must be perfect and beyond criticism The Style One is the perfectionist. They can be highly critical and judgemental of themselves, others and the world around them. They are highly ethical with an indomitable sense of right and wrong. They strive to be good, moral, right. Ones have high standards for themselves and others — they are driven by a need to live up to their own standards and fearful of making a mistake that would tarnish this self-image. Ones are practical, well organised and efficient. They are always endeavouring to make things better and can be great champions of change. My Dad is a Style One — trying to argue a point with him is about as much fun as a rectal exam.

How to interact with me

  • Be serious, and take me seriously

  • Use good manners

  • Don’t tell me I’m wrong — validate my opinion

  • Avoid trigger words like “wrong”, “bad”, “fail”

  • Acknowledge my integrity

  • Have manners

  • Do what you’ll say you’ll do

  • Admit when you’ve made a mistake

  • Communicate with certainty, confidence and authority or I won’t believe you

  • Appreciate the good work I’ve done

  • Show me how we can make things better and get things right

  • Focus on quality and improvement

  • Be detailed and specific

  • Support my critical thinking with objective accurate truths


Style 2 — The Considerate Helper

“I must help others and be liked”

My style

  • Generous, Caring, People-Pleasing, Interpersonal

  • I need to feel loved and needed

  • I’m afraid of being unworthy, insignificant or needy

Core Motivations: I need to be needed by others — I want appreciation for my generosity The Style Two is the people-pleaser. They want to be recognised as nice, helpful and generous. The self-sacrificing Two will be the person that will serve your needs — whether it be attention or making you dinner. They are sincere in their desire to help others but can become quite unpleasant if their generosity isn’t appreciated or recognised. I’ve known Twos who’ve turned into manipulators or played the martyr when they’ve not been appreciated. The Two is an altruistic, gushing, heartfelt individual who does things for others in order to be needed.

How to interact with me

  • Appreciate and acknowledge my efforts

  • Don’t hurt my feelings

  • Take me seriously

  • Show me how I can help

  • Be warm

  • Give me a personal connection


Style 3 — The Competitive Achiever

“I must be successful, productive and outshine others”

My style

  • Ambitious, Image-conscious, Competitive, Confident, Charming

  • I need to look good and be successful

  • I’m afraid of being incompetent or being discovered a fraud

Core Motivations: I want to be better than others, I want to impress the world and be admired. I want your attention. The Style Three is all about status, success and — ultimately — looking good in the face of others. They are self-confident and engaging — helping gain the admiration they crave. The Three cares most deeply about their image and how they come across to others. They spend a lot of time and energy devoted to purporting and supporting their own idealised image. Hence, they are driven to succeed in order to impress others. Underneath the facade, the Three can feel fear of being discovered for their chicanery of their brilliance — as they crave the admiration from others in place of their own lack of for self. The Style Three can be a chameleon — able to adapt to new things quickly and easily. On behalf of their drive to be good at the next thing. My friend who is a Style Three decided he wanted to learn what I do (Service Design). He did it for Three hours and felt he was now as competent as me — the skills I’d spent 15 years finessing. This is the blind confidence of the Three (and a trigger for me to slap him in the ear. I don’t know why — it felt right).

How to interact with me

  • Respect my achievements and hard work

  • Celebrate my successes

  • Help me look good

  • Do not dismiss or undermine me

  • Give me a challenge

  • Let me compete

  • Help me be prolific

  • Get to the point — quickly

  • Don’t interrupt my momentum

  • Speak to me in active language

  • Help me get results

  • Recognise me in front of others

  • If I fail, help me save face


Style 4 — The Intense Creative

“I must be unique”

My style

  • Intense, Emotional, Expressive, Introspective, Dramatic

  • I need to be significant and authentic

  • I’m afraid of being ordinary or inadequate

Core Motivations: I want to surround myself with beautiful things and people, to express my individuality through my emotions The Four is the emotional style in the Enneagram — they lead with their heart — emotional needs come before everything else. They are introspective, highly self aware and often creative — motivated by a need to be seen as unique. The 4 believes they must be authentic and special in order be be enough. The Four is terrified of being seen as common — as this would mean they are not special and therefore (in their mind) inadequate — which may lead to being abandoned. 4s are aesthetic and love beautiful things. They often express their individualism in their personal style of clothing, hair or makeup. The Four will withdraw to protect themselves when they feel vulnerable. There is nothing like the grudge of a Four. Letting go of past emotions is a major challenge for the Four which can restrict them seeing the good things in their life. My good Four friend is a beautiful, unique, self conscious human that becomes a complete emotional hot mess when her self image has been harmed. Her angst is palpable — you can feel her energy coming a block away.

How to interact with me

  • Appreciate my uniqueness

  • Show some emotion — don’t be too rational

  • Be empathetic — I am a sensitive being

  • Make things beautiful, stylish and unique

  • Help me see the good things in my life

  • Allow me to get creative

  • Let me be intuitive


Style 5 — The Quiet Specialist

“I must understand”

My style

  • Cerebral, Detached, Isolated, Secretive

  • I need to be be an expert and conserve my resources

  • I’m afraid of being incapable, ignorant or empty

Core Motivations: I want knowledge and deep understanding. I must protect my knowledge. The Style Five is the person who spends most of their waking time inside their heads trying to understand the way the world works. They are curious, striving for wisdom and have an insatiable appetite for information. The Five is a deeply private type and will often withdraw from the world. This is on behalf of the Five’s need to protect their energy and resources from an intrusive world — solitude is their protection. They can often hoard information because of this — rather than sharing it. The Five avoids emotion and emotional interactions — they will detach when emotions run too hot. They will often use knowledge as a weapon to deflect emotion.

How to interact with me

  • Give me adequate time and space to think

  • Don’t be emotional — keep it rational

  • Be objective and stick to the facts

  • Give me lots of information

  • Make it easy for me to dig deeper into more detail

  • Let me take my time to make contact — don’t pressure me

  • Help me augment my thinking with new ideas


Style 6 — The Loyal Skeptic

“I must be safe”

My style

  • Anxious, Vigilant, Cautious, Loyal, Suspicious

  • I need to be responsible and on guard

  • I’m afraid of being alone in a dangerous world

Core Motivations: I want to make sure myself and the people I care about are safe and secure. I need to be prepared for the worst The Six is driven by the need for safety and certainty. They are afraid of fear itself. The Six is all about “What if?” They habitually think in worst-case scenario mode — thinking of anything and everything that could go wrong. This is not necessarily because Sixes are negative — but more about being prepared on behalf of a deep need for certainly. The worst thing for a Six would be to be caught off guard. The Six is a doubter — they are highly suspicious of others. This lack of trust is a reflection of their own lack of trust in themselves — doubt in their ability to cope. Once you’ve gained a Six’s trust, you have a friend for life — they are loyal and reliable. The Six can be quite difficult to type because of the opposing behaviours different Sixes might display — phobic and counter-phobic. Phobic 6s avoid danger while counter-phobes engage directly with fear in spite of it. The latter is the kind you might see doing extreme sport. My partner is a Six. This is why when we go on holiday we arrive at the Airport five hours early. Just in case anything might have gone wrong on the way.

How to interact with me

  • Don’t blame me for mistakes

  • Give me clear rules, process and procedures upfront

  • Don’t change the rules

  • Disclose everything — don’t hide things from me

  • Be honest with your intentions

  • Don’t insult my intelligence with flattery

  • Don’t ever tell me to calm down

  • Give me all the details I need to make an informed choice

  • Tell me all the things that could go wrong before I move forward

  • Be clear — ambiguity makes me distrustful

  • Help me feel safe and in control


Style 7 — The Enthusiastic Visionary

“I must experience it all”

My style

  • Optimistic, Spontaneous, Avaricious, Gregarious, Adventurous

  • I need to be free and have what I want

  • I’m afraid of being deprived, bored or disappointed

Core Motivations: I want to sustain my happiness and avoid pain. I must stay engaged and immersed and experience everything in abundance. The Seven is playful and hedonistic — motivated to experience only the positive. The Seven avoids pain and negativity through staying active, constantly pursuing new, thrilling, fun experiences to keep them stimulated. They suffer from FOMO (Fear of missing out) and want to experience it all. They’re always in motion and thinking “What’s next?” making plans for the next exciting thing. Sevens can be quite the glutton and their excess can cause them to become scattered and undisciplined. They are impulsive and quick to start new ventures but seldom finish the job. They can suffer from monkey mind with the abundance of different and new distractions they create. The Seven loves and needs freedom — they are terrified of boredom or being trapped. Their need to live their life to the fullest can result in them being irresponsible to others. I’m a Seven. I did four different uni degrees and only finished one. I got bored. I also have a six month max for a job. It’s why I’m now a consultant — it helps with my “shiny new” fetish.

How to interact with me

  • Don’t make me feel trapped

  • Be positive — don’t focus on the negative

  • Keep it short and sweet — I won’t focus long

  • Have fun

  • Give me variety and options to explore

  • Get me excited


Style 8 — The Active Controller

“I must be in control”

My style

  • Assertive, Decisive, Headstrong, Self-confident, protective

  • I need to maintain and protect my sense of control

  • I’m afraid of being humiliated, controlled or vulnerable

Core Motivations: I want to protect and control my world, show my strength and rely only on myself The Eight is straight. True story. They think straight, talk straight, decide straight. They are decision makers because they are confident and self assured in their beliefs and opinions. Eights have a need to control their world which can make them come across as intimidating. This serves their need to control and have power. Their primary concern is the control of others. An Eight who you’ve won over will be your protector and biggest advocate. The Eight protects those who have earned their trust — when they know you’re on their side and support their position,. The Eight is a powerful force — they often operate with a sense surgency — quick and clever and full of energy to express and achieve their goals. They are bold, impactful and want others to see their strength. Challenge an Eight and put them in a position where they feel vulnerable, weak or underestimated and be ready to bear their wrath. They see in black and white — they’ll judge people and things as worthy or unworthy, strong or weak. There is no in between.

How to interact with me

  • Let me control the situation — give me the power

  • Be direct in what you want and how you talk to me

  • Don’t try and control me

  • Don’t make me static for too long — I’ll lose interest

  • Don’t underestimate me

  • Help me make progress

  • Don’t disrespect me

  • Be truthful or I’ll find out

  • Be convicted of what you’re presenting to me — I won’t believe you otherwise

  • If I can see your strength, let me spar with you


Style 9 — The Adaptive Peacemaker

“I must keep things in harmony”

My style

  • Patient, Accommodating, Easy-going, Self-Effacing, Agreeable

  • I need to peace of mind

  • I’m afraid of conflict, discord and complication

Core Motivations: I want to create and maintain a peaceful environment, to avoid conflict or anything that could upset the harmony The Nine’s mission is to create and sustain inner peace and a harmonious balance in their world. They want things to go smoothly and avoid conflict at all costs. Nines are great listeners and all too willing to accept others’ ideas in order to keep the peace. The Nine is like Switzerland and tends not to take sides — not even their own. They are self-forgetting, putting their own needs aside for the greater peace. Nines will often say yes when they mean no. Nines deny and avoid discord — they retreat from aggression by tuning it out and can over-simplify or ignore problems. The nine can be prone to procrastination — spending a lot of time in their heads ruminating about ideas rather than taking action.

How to interact with me

  • Take it slow and easy

  • Listen to me, hang out with me and have a real conversation

  • Chill out and be peaceful

  • Don’t be impatient

  • Don’t push — let me do it at my pace

  • Show me why you want something

  • Be fair — always

  • Be there when I need support

  • Give me personal attention

  • Ask me to co-operate rather than pushing me around

  • Value my contribution, give me recognition — I’ll never ask

  • Reframe orders as suggestions

  • Give me structure with clear procedures

  • I want to see the details

  • Give me multiple outlooks so I can understand all perspectives

  • Ease into changes — lead me through. Don’t surprise me


That’s all for now…

The Enneagram has been such an amazing and powerful tool in helping me design for and communicate with humans. But also in understanding my self — my vices, drivers and subsequent behaviours. What I love most about the Enneagram is that it does not box you into a static type — it measures where you resonate and provides opportunities for you to free yourself from your vices. So there it is — a really global look at the Enneagram. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is it — the Enneagram is a rich, complex system. It is fractal — revealing layer upon layer of wisdom. Going deeper into the Enneagram allows us to unlock more of our understanding about the complexity of what it is to be human in this world and why we think, feel, say and do what we do. The instinctual subtypes are another layer that distinctly changes the way a particular type shows up in the world. Perhaps I’ll write a post about that next. Unless I get bored with this topic. Which is highly likely given I’m a Seven 😃

38 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page