Subject To Change: Creating Great Products & Services for an Uncertain World
Adaptive Path on Design
Publisher: O'Reilly Media
Final Release Date: April 2008
Pages: 202

To achieve success in today's ever-changing and unpredictable markets, competitive businesses need to rethink and reframe their strategies across the board. 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.

Companies must develop a new set of organizational competencies: qualitative customer research to better understand customer behaviors and motivations; an open design process to reframe possibilities and translate new ideas into great customer experiences; and agile technological implementation to quickly prototype ideas, getting them from the whiteboard out into the world where people can respond to them.

In Subject to Change: Creating Great Products and Services for an Uncertain World, Adaptive Path, a leading experience strategy and design company, demonstrates how successful businesses can-and should-use customer experiences to inform and shape the product development process, from start to finish.

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oreillySubject To Change: Creating Great Products & Services for an Uncertain World

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The folks at Adaptive Path know what they're talking about

By Regnard Raquedan

from Undisclosed

Comments about oreilly Subject To Change: Creating Great Products & Services for an Uncertain World:

I just finished reading Subject to Change (yeah, I just put the book down) and I think it's a great and easy read on experience design and innovation.

I'm convinced the folks at Adaptive Path sure know what they're talking about because they were able to write a book that's less than 170 pages and be able to provide very good and conscise insights on customer/user research, agile methods, strategy and experience design.

The authors submit that qualitative data and research is as important as the quantitative methods (e.g. usability testing & evaluation versus interviews and observation). My key takeaway is really the importance of context for you and your customer when developing new services, interfaces and customer touch points.

The book does cite a lot of Adaptive Path's experience in dealing with companies and it highlights how they were able to help them to be more customer-centric and adopt a design culture. I wish there were more specific examples on how they went about in doing customer research and implementing design strategies. The authors are able to make the topics "industry agnostic" and work even if you're not in the IT field.

Subject to Change reads very much like a blog because there are very short sections and chapters, but that makes it easy to put the book down when you want to reflect on the points the authors are raising.

(This book review also appears in ) (


experience design and the agile approach

By Roy Johnson

from Undisclosed

Comments about oreilly Subject To Change: Creating Great Products & Services for an Uncertain World:

This book is about design theory for the digital age, and aspires to be read alongside Viktor Papanek's Design for the Real Word ( and Donald Norman's The Design of Everyday Things ( or his 'revised' views in Emotional Design (

It's written by four guys from Jesse James Garrett's ( company, Adaptive Path, and draws heavily on their work in what they call 'experience design'. They are challenging conventional wisdoms of commercial practice in the light of the new digital possibilities. For instance, piling more and more features into a product may not be a good thing - as users of VCR machines will confirm. Neither will building a novelty if nobody has a use for it - as the Segway proved. What they are proposing is a radical alternative.

They suggest that designers must learn to empathise with the people whose interests they wish to serve. They should forget about consumers and learn to embrace the fact that the Customer is King. Their arguments stray into fields of business management, economics, and sales strategies - but they come back in the end to what these factors mean for design.

If there is a hidden sub-title to this work it's "What is experience design?" - because the main thrust of their arguments is that whilst many companies have learned how to deliver a product, few of them have realised the importance of offering a rich and gratifying experience for their customers.

If there is a weakness, it's a slightly Utopian notion that large businesses would allow experience design solutions policy to reach down to lower levels of company employees. It might be true that a postman or a sales clerk could offer a valuable suggestion for improving customer satisfaction - but can you imagine the directors of Royal Mail, British Gas, or - come to think of it - the government paying any attention? But of course, they would argue that this is the whole point of what they're saying. It's a shift in culture that's required.

They are (quite rightly) great believers in the advantages of prototyping. James Dyson created more than 5,000 versions of his bagless vacuum cleaner before he came up with the definitive model. In fact they miss the opportunity to stress the huge advantages of prototyping in the digital world. A web site can be updated or remodeled unlike physical products such as cars or refrigerators, at virtually zero cost in no time at all by re-jigging a style sheet (CSS) or a content management system (CMS).

They are also advocates of 'losing control' - that is, giving customers (and even your competitors) access to tools to create their own experiences. The Internet world is littered with examples of companies who have made millions by giving away their product [Google, Linux, Mozilla]. It seems counter-intuitive, but that's the way digital commerce works.

To conservatives, many of these ideas will seem quite impractical; but to anybody with even half a foot in the contemporary world of digital technology, they will seem like roadmaps to a New Future, employing methods which you might already be using - such as 'managing with less'.

The latter part of the book becomes quite inspirational as they spell out their concept of 'The Agile Manifesto'. This is a method of design and product development which does almost the exact opposite of conventional notions (which they call the 'Waterfall Approach'). The only problem was that this section doesn't carry any references to secondary sources - so it's not possible to follow up their suggestions with any further reading.

Individuals and interactions not processes and tools

Working software not comprehensive documentation.

Customer collaboration not contract negotiation

Responding to change not following a plan

The authors all work for the same firm (Adaptive Path) and there's quite a lot of unashamed trumpet-blowing about their success which has drawn down severe criticism from some reviewers. But if you can stomach this (or ignore it) the book offers some useful pointers in the world of design theory and the New eCommerce.

(2 of 2 customers found this review helpful)


Subject To Change is an excellent book for customer service and growing a business

By Clay S. Fernald

from Undisclosed

Comments about oreilly Subject To Change: Creating Great Products & Services for an Uncertain World:

'Subject to Change' is a valuable addition to the modern business person's bookshelf. I should note that this would be an especially great tool for marketers and publicists, research and development teams, as well as application developers.

The Adaptive Path team took a fungible approach to writing this book, as an organization that is interested in anticipation of the ever-changing needs of the expectations of their customers.

In the late Nineteenth century, inventions and innovations were largely based on new advances in technology available at the time. The kludgy inconvenience of these early technologies were simply 'part of the experience.' This book sites Eastman's Kodak Camera as perhaps the first example of a company having the foresight to anticipate a customer's needs. Until then, photographers were hobbyists, scientists, and tech geeks of the age. Eastman's brilliant vision of making technology more accessible to the rest of the populous with the philosophy of "You press the button, and we do the rest," was a great bridge between the customers who wanted to take photos and a company that could provide a service. That service being the development of the film, processing the plates, and mailing the finished photos to the customer.

The book uses this model to encourage shifting our traditional business mindset to anticipate our customer's needs while developing software, hardware, or other devises. By empathizing with the target audience, and my making yourself a part of the audience yourself, you may wish to create an experience for your users that has the potential to seamlessly integrate with their lives. When marketers or designers use the traditional mode, that people are sheep, without valuing the feedback of the audience, innovation will grind to a halt. I emphatically agree with the Adaptive Path on this theme. As a publicist, I value customer feedback as much as I value my own creative ideas.

Another great specimen, and perhaps a more modern one, is the iPod/iTunes Music store. The mp3 player was already invented, but Steve Jobs created the experience of browsing music and buying music for the device, anticipating the customer's needs. One could also argue that the iPhone is also the product of this school of thought, combining the need for a cell phone with the music player experience, all in one well designed device.

I have a niece with juvenile diabetes, and this book gave me a peek into the development of something that she uses every day to enjoy a happy life. There is a relatively new medical product developed called an insulin pump. I can testify that she is much happier using this pump than her previous regiment of daily shots. When developing this pump, diabetics tested a mock-up of the device, and offered feedback as to what would work for them. The developers of the pump changed the design of the belt used while swimming or in the shower, as well as other practical concerns. A side-note is that I was reading this section of the book while my nieces were happily making sandcastles and going in and out of the water! Without the user input, the device might be uncomfortable and unwieldy and certainly not easy to wear at the beach. This reminds me that the first undergarments for women were made by men, but the true innovations in practicality and comfort came when women started designing them!

In conclusion, this is a great book and I have started personally to rethink the feedback I am getting from my customers to be more empathetic. Empathizing with a person's needs in the present and the future will prove to be a better model to provide easy to use, and enriching technologies, customer service solutions, and ingenuity.


Designing software is also subject to change

By Burk Hufnagel

from Undisclosed

Comments about oreilly Subject To Change: Creating Great Products & Services for an Uncertain World:

As a software architect, I found this to be an intriguing book. While not specifically targeted at software development, it is full of information and suggestions that can help any organization interested in turning users into loyal customers. Notice I said "help". The most you can hope for from a book is that it paints a picture of possibilities in your head. Once it's there, it's up to you to make those possibilities a reality. That takes time and effort, even if you're already committed to making changes.

The picture "Subject to Change" paints is compelling. An organization that consistently produces excellent user experiences would not only be a great place to work, but a business that's headed to the top of its market. With that as a goal, it's easier to stay committed and do the hard work necessary to effect change.

Oh, just one more thing. Even if you can't convince your organization to change, you can use what you've learned to make changes in how you do things; and that might be enough.


Create inifinite products

By rvarkelen

from Undisclosed

Comments about oreilly Subject To Change: Creating Great Products & Services for an Uncertain World:

Being a developer I hoped this book would give me more insight in development. Instead it grasps everything that's needed to create a product which suits a client needs.

While reading the book every piece falls in the right place, your mind will be switched into a mode I didn't know it existed, it makes you think. My customers are very divers and so are their needs/expectations. Adaptive Path helped me to define a clear view in which products / services can be developed and will continue to adapt to their needs in the future (well at least, I hope they will)...

As software developer I expected the book to be much more abstract and cover subjects like software/patterns/strategies, so this expectation wasn't really satisfied but I'm not blaming this book for it, it really was worth reading.


Experience Strategy Design Requires Empathy

By mbaird

from Undisclosed

Comments about oreilly Subject To Change: Creating Great Products & Services for an Uncertain World:

What an excellent book on product development and user experience design. A strong message of empathic design and how to develop empathy for those whom the products/experiences are designed for.

Although there are several books available surrounding software interaction and experience design, this book takes the cake. Thinking of products as experiences, developing data backed personas and learning to develop with an agile perspective are all wonderful insights in creating excellent products. That aren't just usable but are also fun and easy to use.

It was engaging to learn of different people that have developed full-filling, context based, experience (ie. the ClearRx prescription-packaging system debuts at Target pharmacies, Deborah Adler)

I consider this book a must read for product development of any sort. Thinking about experience design and strategy and inquiring for user goals and tasks help us to accomplish this.

Thanks to AdaptivePath for the insights.


A must read

By Jeff Kew - Vancouver InDesign User Group

from Vancouver

Comments about oreilly Subject To Change: Creating Great Products & Services for an Uncertain World:

Subject To Change: Creating Great Products & Services for an Uncertain World

-Adaptive Path on Design

By Peter Merholz, Todd Wilkens, Brandon Schauer, David Verba

Book Price: $24.99 USD

Personal Rating: A MUST READ!

As a individual working within the design and advertising industry, I can say that I have a pretty good idea about the truth in the design process for this particular industry - it's all about the creative, winning awards and getting results for our clients. However, after reading "Subject to Change", I'd like to think that I've seen the light about how to better develop solutions not just for my clients, but for their clients; the end user, the person who will ultimately be influenced by the product or service I have been hired to create.

Adaptive Path successfully shows that it is the experience of the end user that determines the success or failure of a product or service. By encouraging a process of design that takes into consideration the experience of using the product or service, Adaptive Path have proven that their recommended processes can be adopted by any development team and be used to create a successful product or service.

I would encourage that any professional who works or participates in any sort of design cycle that creates, they should read this book. It will lead to a change in they way they think about what sort of outcomes they are trying to achieve.

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