Here's an overdue report on a book put out this year by Adapative Path, a product experience strategy and design consulting firm. Their blog is a great source of info on ideas and approaches to innovative product development. This year they released the book Subject to Change: Creating Great Products and Services for an Uncertain World (O'Reilly). The book outlines the trend of using the customer experience to inform the entire product design and development process and reviews the associated attitudinal and cultural changes necessary to embrace this approach to new product development. Here's a quick overview of some of the book's main points from a few of the early chapters.
From the book's jacket:
The authors initially clarify what they mean by design. They see it as an activity that incorporates the following elements:
- Empathy -- design must serve a human purpose and hence the human interaction component is paramount.
- Problem solving -- design shines when it solves complex problems and clarifies nebulous situations.
- Ideation and prototyping -- design is a creative activity that must produce something.
- Finding alternatives -- design is less about the analysis of existing options than the creation of new options -- ideally multiple solution options for a given problem.
They define the ideal evolution of product offerings as going from technology (what makes the product possible) to features (eventually these differentiate you from competitors who share your technology) to ultimately the satisfaction of the customer experience. To do this you need to focus on the abilities, needs, and desires of your customers -- "the experience is the product".
Experience is then broken down into its component parts:
- Motivations (why customer is engaged and what they hope to get out of product)
- Expectations (preconceptions customers bring to how something works)
- Perceptions (ways that the product affects their senses)
- Abilities (how customers cognitively and physically interact with product)
- Flow (how customers engage with product over time)
- Culture (framework of customer's codes, norms, and belief systems)
They then turn to explore strategy as it relates to product development. They have some interesting observations in this area:
- Parity isn't a strategy -- avoid the desire to compete via the "feature matrix" comparison approach. Parity is sameness -- it's removing differentiation with the competition when you should be introducing it. Difference is good.
- Being the best isn't a strategy -- you can't be the best at everything. Follow strategist Michael Porter's advice and instead deliver "a unique value to meet an important set of needs for an important set of customers".
- Novelty isn't differentiation -- don't think that "new" necessarily equals "innovative". Don't pander to novelty at the expense of more beneficial qualities.
Instead, designers should strive to encourage and maintain the initial experiential focus throughout the entire development process. Adaptive Path follows an "experience strategy" -- a "clearly articulated touchstone that influences all of the decisions made about technology, features, and interfaces". This strategy consists of a vision (an expression of the experience you hope customers have) and experience requirements.
They go on to clarify that an experience strategy isn't a brand strategy. "The brand orientation is antithetical to designing for experience." Traditional brand strategy is practiced as a marketing function and focuses on associating a company or its products with a set of values and qualities -- it is an inside-->out orientation. Experience comes from the outside-->in.
Creating effective experience strategies means planning for the experiences of your customers. These planned experiences:
- Truly differentiate themselves from the perspective of the customer.
- Are what matters most to customers.
- Should be invested in and managed -- business decisions should be made with consideration of the impact on experience.
- Can be cultivated and nurtured.
This synopsis has included a peek at the first two chapters in the book. The book goes on to review the following additional topics:
- New ways of understanding people
- Capturing complexity, building empathy
- Stop designing 'products'
- The design competency
- The agile approach
- An uncertain world
I highly recommend this book. It's a quick read that presents a cogent framework for anyone in the business of providing experiential solutions for customers or partners.