Swaroop C H

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What product creation should be about

05 Dec 2008

I just finished reading "Subject To Change: creating great products and services for an uncertain world". This book is written by Adaptive Path, the same guys who invented the words "blog" and "ajax", as well as creators of the Aurora browser concept.

It has been a revelatory book for me, a developer who considers himself to be the last person to know about "design." The book mainly focuses on the lessons learned from their experiences in working with clients to design and create products and services.


They define design as an activity, as opposed to a look and feel that is added later on. The activity incorporates:

They repeatedly explain that the experience is what matters to the end-user and that's the real product rather than how it is delivered.


The qualities of a person's experience and how it affects whether they think of a product or service as a "good" or "bad" experience depends on these qualities:


They take great pains and length to explain Empathy, and how it is important and central to getting key insights which lead to pathbreaking products.

Empathy is an understanding of a person or group's subjective experience by sharing that experience vicariously. Empathy is something like a balanced curiosity that can lead to a deeper understanding of another person. After all, customers lives are messy and complex, not always rational or task-oriented or follow perfect paths that product-makers expect.

They talk about what's missing in our understanding are

One of the best insights I read was their description of organizations evolving their product strategy from a:

Focus on Technology → Focus on Features → Focus on Experience

This is the exactly the kind of transition that we can relate to.

Parallelly, a company's view of people also shifts from:

"What users?" → Their tasks, goals and preferences → Their behaviors and motivations.

Experience, not Products

They stress to not design products, but to design the system as part of the larger experience, whether the experience is end-to-end your system, or part of a larger ecosystem i.e. understand the context.

This chapter is where I had most of my moments of epiphany.

My Takeaways

Bottom line: Agile technical implementation + Design competency + Empathy ⇒ Critical for a successful company

The downside was that it is a short book and I wish it was more concrete in its explanations and descriptions.

Overall, I highly recommend the book for anyone who is involved in the creation of products and services in their companies, especially entrepreneurs.

On a related note, Rands in Repose has some great points on his expectations of a product:

  1. Make it look and feel like magic.
  2. Work flawlessly in the first 10 minutes. If you can’t survive 10 minutes of critical analysis, I’m gone.
  3. Provide additional, unexpected awesomeness.


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