Burk is a long-time programmer and software architect, currently focused on the Java platform with an eye toward mobile platforms. In 2010, he was voted a JavaOne Rock Star for his talk on User Experience Anti-Patterns, and is a co-author of the books "97 Things Every Software Architect Should Know" and "97 Things Every Programmer Should Know". Burk is also a Sun Certified Programmer, Developer, and Enterprise Architect for JEE 5. Burk has posted 25 posts at DZone. View Full User Profile

Subject to Change: Creating Great Products and Services for an Uncertain World

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Published by: O'Reilly
ISBN: 0596516835

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This is not an easy book, but that makes sense since designing products is not an easy topic; especially when the product requirements are subject to change. There's a ton of great ideas in the book, but your organization will probably have to change if it wants to reap the greatest benefits.


Before we look a the book in detail, let's get this out of the way. I've seem some reviews that say this book is little more than an informercial for Adaptive Path because it often uses projects Adaptive Path worked on as examples. Personally, I think that's a good thing. It means that the authors, who all work at Adaptive Path, are writing about their own experiences and not some cool "theory" that's never been tried in the real world. Guys, that's a Good Thing. Really.

Chapter 1, "The Experience is the Product", sets the stage for the rest of the book by showing us how the world has changed and why design is becoming increasingly important. Then, because design is so important, the authors take a few pages to discuss some of the many meanings people (and businesses) have assigned to it and the meaning and approaches Adaptive Path uses when approaching design. The chapter ends with a warning that building things with more and more features is no longer the way to success; if you really want to succeed then you must focus on the users and create the experiences they really want.

"Experience as Strategy" is chapter 2, and in it the authors dissect the idea of "Experience" to make it easier for us to see just what goes into designing one. A brief discussion on "Competitive Strategy" follows with explanations on why the most common strategies (like keeping parity with your competition, Being the best, and novelty) don't work as well as they did, and why they're no longer viable. It ends with a discussion on Experience as a strategy, what it is and isn't, two examples of experience strategies and how to approach the creation of such a strategy.

Chapter 3, "New Ways of Understanding People" talks about the difference between designing something for a real person versus designing it for some abstract "user." Even if you skip the rest of the book, I think you should read this chapter. Borrow the book from a friend, or read it in the book store if you have to - it's just over 20 pages.

Researching your users isn't enough, but it's a good start and chapter 4, "Capturing Complexity, Building Empathy" describes some of the various kinds of research needed to understand your users. It also covers common mistakes and has suggestions for ensuring that the valuable information discovered by the researchers doesn't go to waste.

"Stop Designing Products" is the title of chapter 4, and the discussions suggest that if you want to deliver the "ideal customer experience", you probably need to design a service (which may contain one or more products) rather than a stand-alone product. The successes of the iPod and Flickr are used as examples of this, and there's an interesting example of what not to do as well. There's a short warning for service-based companies no to treat their services like a standalone product, and the chapter ends with the revelation that what we really should be targeting is a system that intelligently combines services and products into a seamless whole.

Chapter 6, "The Design Competency" reveals that the preceding chapters have (from the author's point of view) taught us the basics of what needs to be done to successfully design compelling experiences for our users. Unfortunately, it also asserts that knowing that information is not enough to succeed; we must also change the way our organizations do things and what they value. While it talks about the potential value of Design, it also acknowledges that Design by itself won't guarantee success. It suggests that organizations must adapt to changing circumstances or they won't survive, and that today's pioneer will become tomorrow's dodo bird unless it learns to adapt.

The next chapter, "The Agile Approach" gives us a brief look at agile development (including a quick march through the Agile Manifesto) and contrasts it with the more traditional Waterfall approach to product development. A discussion of some of the benefits that taking an agile approach follows, with examples of how agility has benefited 3M and Toyota, and suggestions on how your company can foster an agile mindset.

Subject to Change ends with chapter 8, "An Uncertain World", is a reminder that our world is full of uncertainties. But rather than a warning, it is an encouragement to embrace the opportunity uncertainty and change offer.
Published at DZone with permission of its author, Burk Hufnagel.

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