Friday, July 3, 2009

Subject to Change by Adaptive Path Book Review

Subject to Change

Founded in San Francisco in 2001 by a group of product designers and user experience experts, Adaptive Path has worked with industry innovators and leaders to help them better connect with their customers. In their recent publication, Subject to Change, Adaptive path presents a guide that will enable businesses to adapt and respond to the unexpected effects of complex global, economic and social environments on product and service design.

Unlike, traditional business strategies, those described in Subject to Change focus on fundamentally changing the relationships between businesses and their customers – “Once you stop thinking of your customers as consumers and begin approaching them as people, you’ll find a whole new world of opportunities to meet their needs and desires”. Introduced in chapter one, this statement sets the tone for the rest of the book as the importance of user experience is frequently revisited as the core belief throughout the book.

The authors propose that via empathy, companies can begin to create the experience users truly desire when they interact with products and services. To begin to educate the reader about this topic, many references to unsuccessful versus successful experience strategies are described. Importantly, these help validate the author’s perception of design and aid in the reader’s understanding of why design can be so powerful in business organization and development.

The relationships between customer empathy and successful customer experiences are further described in chapter 3. Through first hand accounts of working with industry, this is effectively communicated in a clear manner. However, chapter 4 addresses perhaps one of the more important, and yet lacking in detail aspects of the book – how to generate empathy through research. Insufficient attention is given to fleetingly described “evaluative”, “generative” and “user” research. Furthermore, the terms “quantative research” and “ethnography” are all too quickly introduced and subsequently concluded. These methods of research ultimately influence the degree of developing empathy for users and eventual generation of a successful user experience. Therefore, further description and perhaps more successful examples of “research in action” would lead to a greater understanding of this process.

In order to fully deliver a complete and successful user experience, the authors propose that designers and businesses must “stop designing products”, and instead develop whole systems which foster user relationships and loyalty. An excellent example, highlighted frequently through the book is the success of Apple’s iPod and iTunes platform. By placing functionality across a system with narrowly defined functional components, iPod (play music), iTunes (manage music) and iTunes Music Store (buy music), the complete user experience is generated when each individual component seamlessly integrates together in a system. Thus, the user experience is never overwhelming and underscores the success of Apple in recent years. On the other hand, useful examples are also given by the authors to highlight businesses Adaptive Path have worked with that fail to deliver this systems driven successful user experience.

Design competency, iterative prototyping and agile design approaches are methods the authors believe can help businesses deliver an effective user experience. Although not entirely novel, design competency for businesses involves embedding design process throughout the organization. As such, the hope is to develop increased user empathy as all aspects of a company are involved in the design process. Sufficient content, including real business world examples such as Google, Apple (again) and Flickr, is included to help illustrate what makes a business competent, but an opportunity is lost to increase the clarity of the idea by sparse and poorly conceived pictures and diagrams. Indeed, this is a common occurrence in Subject to Change, as graphics often feel like an afterthought and do nothing to compliment the text. Though the written content is clear, the authors missed an excellent opportunity to use graphics and images that help communicate their ideas. Surely, as designers themselves, the authors must they value the power that bright, clear and informative diagrams could have on readers.

Straight to the point, with very little superfluous content, “Subject to Change” presents in easy to understand language for both design and business audiences the importance of and how to achieve successful user experiences. The book is well-written and packed with great examples from businesses in the field to help guarantee business success in the evolving global market. However, if you prefer design books that are more graphical or are easily frustrated by self congratulation, the authors frequently use the book as an Adaptive Path marketing tool, perhaps you should pass this book by.

Thumbs up!