New products are the lifeblood of companies, however, studies show 35% of new product introductions are failures. Whitworth (2003) posed, “Behind every brand leader there is a trolley-load of failures. But, how do you know when to kill off the duffs and stick with the winners” (p. 3)? Aside from manufacturing and packaging costs, there is an opportunity cost involved with betting on a failure while leaving a potential winning product to languish. When it comes to evaluating and nurturing products, Dr. Susan P. Besemer’s Creative Product Semantic Scale (CPSS) can help. Based on the Creative Product Analysis Model (CPAM), the CPSS is a valid and reliable online assessment tool for evaluating creative products.

Origins of the CPSS

Besemer grew up in the 50’s, otherwise known as, the “age of design”. As a child, she relished in the classic design of Scandinavian furniture and wide-ranging patterns of fine china. Her passion for products does not stem from material wealth, but from the inherent beauty of form, function and design (S. Besemer, personal communication, October 27, 2009).  As part of a Masters program in Creative Studies and a Doctorate program in Cognitive Studies, Besemer’s curiosity led her on a journey to discover how people evaluated creative products.

In observing individual and group evaluations, she noticed people made “frequent, sometimes harsh, judgments” (Besemer, 2006, p. 41). According to Besemer, product feedback can feel heavy – like taking a sledgehammer to an idea (S. Besemer, personal communication, October 27, 2009). With this in mind, Besemer sought to define the criteria used when making judgments and looked for ways to keep creativity alive when evaluating products.

Through examining the wide variety of criteria used to judge products, Besemer realized the subjective nature. In converging, Besemer broadly grouped evaluation criteria into dimensions of Novelty, Resolution and Elaboration and Synthesis (later renamed Style). This three-dimensional model, called CPAM, was first published in 1981. (Besemer & Treffinger, 1981). The CPAM follows the domain-general view of creativity as it is used to evaluate products (e.g. shoes or industrial equipment) regardless of type (Plucker, 2004).

The CPAM forms the underlying framework for the CPSS. Two of Besemer’s most important empirical studies related to the CPSS were produced in the 1990’s. The first study was conducted in Norway with 128 “folk high school” students whereby they evaluated three creative products (chairs) along the dimensions of Novelty, Resolution and Elaboration and Synthesis. The Norwegian study confirmed the CPSS could detect differences perceived in the levels of each (Besemer, 1998). A second study was conducted using an American sample to evaluate four creative products (T-shirts). The American study confirmed the Norwegian findings (Besemer & O’Quin, 1999).

To see a timeline, visit http://www.dipity.com/alicarnold

Dimensions of the Model

The CPAM is a three-dimensional model for judging creativity in products. The three dimensions of Novelty, Resolution and Style are made up of underlying facets (Table 1).


The degree of newness in the product in terms of the number and extent of new materials, new processes, and/or concepts included.


The degree to which the product fits or meets the needs of the problematic situation.


The degree to which the product combines unlike elements into a refined, developed, coherent whole, statement or unit.

  • Surprising – the product presents unexpected or unanticipated information to the user, listener, or viewer.
  • Original – the product is unusual or infrequently seen in a universe of products made b people with similar experience and training.
  • Logical – the product or solution follows the acceptable and understood rules for the discipline.
  •  Useful – the product has clear, practical applications
  •  Valuable – the product is judged worthy because it fills a financial, physical, social or psychological need.
  • Understandable – the product is presented in a communicative, self-disclosing way, which is “user friendly.”
  • Organic – the product has a harmonious sense of wholeness or completeness about it. All the parts “work well” together.
  •   Well-Crafted – the product has been worked and reworked with care to develop it to its highest possible level for this point in time.
  • Elegant – the product shows a solution that is expressed in a refined, understated way.

Table 1: CPAM dimensions and facets

It is important to note, when it comes to Novelty, too much can be detrimental to a product. As it turns out, people gravitate to products that are familiar. Too much surprise can limit the size of the audience who might be interested in a product. This was the case with the Norwegian study. The chair that was the most “shocking” or surprising had a lower overall score than the more typical chairs (Besemer, 1998). 

Every creative product must provide resolution, otherwise known as solving a problem. Kusiak (2009) suggested starting with design requirements to define the product is the first step towards achieving resolution. While Edwards (2009) highlighted the importance of user-friendliness when he realized 50% of electronic devices returned to stores worked fine, but were returned because consumers could not figure out how to use them.

When all else is equal, style is the tie-breaker. Pink (2006) saw design as stretching beyond the creation of a functional product, service, experience or lifestyle to create something that is beautiful, whimsical or emotionally engaging. This aesthetic imperative is also supported by Fixton (2009) who stated, “Successful products and services simultaneously delight customers, are affordable and are available on time” (p. 200).


In creating the CPSS, Besemer provided a way to give product feedback in a meaningful way without stamping out creativity. According to Besemer, the CPSS is not about the good or bad, but a descriptive means of creating a dialogue to discuss, analyze and improve products (S. Besemer, personal communication, October 27, 2009). In Besemer’s (2006) book, Creating Products in the Age of Design, she provides ways and means to evaluate and nurture products. She suggests when using the CPSS, one should look at the weakest dimensions and ask, “How might I improve these dimensions?” By doing so, one can improve the new product success rate so that a larger quantity of products (and better products) see the light of day.


Besemer, S. P. (1998). Creative product analysis matrix: Testing the model structure and a comparison among products – Three novel chairs. Creativity Research Journal, 11, 333-346.

Besemer, S. P. (2006). Creating products in the age of design. How to improve your new product ideas! Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press, Inc.

Besemer, S. P., & O’Quin, K. (1999). Confirming the three-factor creative product analysis matrix model in an American sample. Creativity Research Journal, 12, 287-296.

Besemer, S. P., & Treffinger, D. J. (1981). Analysis of creative products: Review and synthesis. Journal of Creative Behavior, 15, 158-178.

Cooper, R. G. (2001). Winning at new products: Accelerating the process from idea to launch. New York. Perseus Publishing.

Edwards, C. (2009). The art of avoiding lemons. Engineering & Technology, 4(16), 74-77.

Fixton, S. K. (2009). Teaching innovation through interdisciplinary courses and programmes in product design and development: An analysis at 16 US schools. Creativity and Innovation Management, 18(3), 199-208.

Kusiak, A. (2009). Innovation: A data-driven approach. International Journal of Production Economics, 122(1), 440-448.

 Pink, D. H. (2006). A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, New York: Riverhead Trade.

Plucker, J. A. (2004). Generalization of creativity across domains: Examination of the method effect hypothesis. Journal of Creative Behavior, 38, 1-12.

Whitworth, M. (2003). Stop the flops. Food Manufacture, 78(6), 4-5.


2 responses to “CPSS

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  2. Pingback: Creative Product Semantic Scale (CPSS) – Measuring Creativity

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