Subject to Change

adaptivepath-subject-to-changeI picked up a copy of Subject To Change: Creating Great Products & Services for an Uncertain World by my Adaptive Path friends Peter Merholz, Todd Wilkens, Brandon Schauer, and David Verba. The book presents a toolset for a “flexible design process” to embrace user behaviours and motivations and an ever changing, unpredictable environment.

Instead of approaching new product development from the inside out, companies have to begin by looking at the process from the outside in, beginning with the customer experience. It’s a new way of thinking-and working-that can transform companies struggling to adapt to today’s environment into innovative, agile, and commercially successful organizations.

The process reminded me of the outstanding work on Charmr – A Design Concept for Diabetes Management Devices. Charmr is Adaptive Path’s response to an Open Letter to Steve Jobs from Amy Tenderich asking for some of that Jonathan Ive magic to redesign insulin pumps. The Charmr Project was a 9 week long project completed by an Adaptive Path team including: Dan Saffer, Rachel Hinman, Alexa Andrzejewski, Rae Brune, Sebastian Heyke and Jamin Hegemin.

The process and timeline:

The most interesting part is that before the concepting and design work, is the creation of the six primary design principles:

    1. Wear it during sex. Make the product elegant, discreet, and comfortable.
    2. Make better use of data. Have the product use the data that is generated (blood glucose levels, amount of insulin dosed, trends) in smarter ways.
    3. Easy to learn and teach/No numbers. A broad cross-section of diabetics will use this product, so it cannot be overly complicated, nor difficult to teach. And while numbers are important, we didn’t want to solely rely on those for indicating status and trending.
    4. Less stuff. Diabetics have to carry around a lot of stuff. We wanted to be sure that whatever we created wasn’t just one more thing to carry around.
    5. Keep diabetics in control. The people we spoke to weren’t interested in automatic pumps for the most part. They wanted to retain control of their insulin dosing.
    6. Keep diabetics motivated. Diabetes is a difficult disease to have. Diabetics, in the words of someone we talked to, “never get a day off,” so keeping motivated is a challenge. We wanted our product to help diabetics set goals and be so easy to use it helped keep them on track.

The principles themselves aren’t interesting beyond diabetics. But that they were derived from the observations and interviews with patients and experts. How often to we discount the basic user research and analysis?


In moving beyond the features and functionality, and looking at behaviour and experiences companies are able to build compelling solutions like Nike+. Amazing, runners listen to music when they are out pounding the pavement. Understanding the experience has let Nike partner with Apple to build a great experience.

Nike Plus “combines the physical world with the digital world. We put a sensor in the shoe that speaks to the iPod, and you can hear how far you went, how long you went and how many calories you’ve burned, pretty simple thoughts. And then, when you dock it, you have a world of information at your fingertips. You get to see all that you’ve done, all your runs stored in a very simple, intuitive web experience where you can set goals for yourself.  – Trevor Edwards, VP Global Brand & Category Management, Nike

Nike+ is also really interesting because it is software above the level of a single device. Using the iPod, Nike shoes, iTunes, and the web to create a community to share playlists, running trails, and maps, Nike has successfully created an enduring, engaging brand experience.

Both Charmr and Nike+ are great examples of building products based on understanding and analyzing behaviour. Check out Subject To Change: Creating Great Products & Services for an Uncertain World for a toolkit for using “customer experiences to inform and shape the product development process”.