Subject to Change, by Adaptive Path (book review)

Book cover

“Subject to Change: creating great products and services for an uncertain world” is
Adaptive Path’s new book, written by Peter Merholz, Todd Wilkens, Brandon Schauer, and David Verba.
It’s an excellent book, clearly written and easy to follow, and it provides a combination
of historical perspective, an analysis of the present, an explanation of what design
actually is, and methods and tips on actually practising design in real life.

I don’t know exactly what I expected from this book—something aimed at a
design audience perhaps—but in fact the book reads more like a manifesto
for the discipline of experience design—and especially for its use in
corporations. At times the book is surprisingly radical, quoting non-mainstream
sources like the Cluetrain Manifesto and the
Agile Manifesto, taking aim at business school
thinking and its obsession with efficiency and benchmarking, and
scathing about advertisers’ and marketers’ view of customers as mere consumers,
or sheep. They even attack the “Homo Economicus” view of people
as rational utility maximisers, the part of Economics that’s always annoyed me the most.

The book’s key audience might be somebody working in a corporation
who wants to improve some aspect of their users’ experience—the usability
of a website or product, say. The authors’ message is that although
there may be lots of improvements you can make on that little
product, unless the organisation takes a holistic view of
the experience—an experience strategy, incorporating design as an
organisational competency—sooner or later
you’re going to hit a brick wall from the point of view of
the user experience.

They cite the example
of being asked to work on the user experience of a banking website,
when the key frustrations of the bank’s customers concerned
their interactions with branches, paper statements and
telephone banking—parts of the organisation that were
out of bounds for the website team.

This isn’t just a moan about how clients and organisations make designers’
jobs impossible. The authors’ argument isn’t that organisations need to
change in order to make design easier, but that if they don’t make design a
central part of what they do, they’re going to have a very rough time
trying to establish a competitive advantage.

From the first chapter:

> The key to succeeding in the contemporary marketplace
is to fundamentally change your relationship with customers.
Once you stop thinking of your customers as consumers
and begin approaching them as people, you’ll find a whole
new world of of opportunities to meet their needs and desires.

A thought-provoking, considered book—highly recommended.

“Subject to Change: creating great products and services for an uncertain world”
by Peter Merholz, Todd Wilkens, Brandon Schauer, and David Verba.
Published by O’Reilly, April 2008.
ISBN 10: 0-596-51683-5. ISBN 13: 9780596516833.