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user-centered design for evolving products

ryan freitas, adaptive path
future of web design, 3/18/2007

Hello. My name is Ryan Freitas.


as an interaction designer at adaptive path, i work with client teams that are optimized for engineering products.


i try to introduce these teams to design principles that can improve the quality of their process and their products.

My recent work made me realize something.

In the future, you might be evolving yourself.


evolution and product design a toolset for evolution final thoughts

evolution and product design

what i mean when i talk about “products.”

“the web is moving away from big ‘sites’ with lots of ‘pages,’ and towards applications with interfaces. this might be an artifact of the kind of work we’re doing, but we at adaptive path have been increasingly working on projects that don’t resemble web sites of old.”
peter merholz

evolution and product design

all products undergoing iteration evolve. some products are evolving faster than others.

gradualism in product development

version n


We see this on the web all the time.

user-centered design for gradualism

process refinements taxonomy and ia iteration interface improvements

What’s the opposite of gradual iteration?


punctuation in product development

something new has happened here


defining punctuation

in evolutionary biology, “punctuation” refers to a rapid or sudden development of new and distinct species.

defining punctuation

in web product design, i believe that it means much the same thing.

defining punctuation

darwin believed that most species will show little change for most of their geological history.

At a slow enough pace, gradualism looks like stasis.

defining punctuation

when differentiation does occur, it happens ”relatively quickly compared to the species' full and stable duration on earth.”

Years developing a specific set of features...

...and yet finding success in an entirely different way.

why punctuate?

differentiation in the name of survival.

gradualism versus punctuation

gradualism maturation and iteration
information architecture design research interaction design experience strategy

punctuation redefinition and refinement

user-centered design and punctuation

repurpose traditional activities of gradualism to prepare an organization for punctuation.

Picking the right tools for the job.

a toolset for evolution

re-state the value tell the story atomize the features tidy the seams

re-state the value

the value proposition

know your audience know your benefit know your competition know your differentiation

for: target customers who: need or opportunity or problem the: product/service name is a: product category that: key benefits/reason to buy unlike: primary competitive alternative we: primary differentiation

elevator pitch


For who

(target customer)

(statement of need or opportunity)

, is a

(product name)

re-state the value

as a team activity, this forges a common understanding of goals and allows everyone to refocus.

punctuation & the value statement

the needs of users and the market will shift over time. take the opportunity to tackle your assumptions in the face of a changing landscape.

punctuation & the value statement

the ability to shift direction quickly is dependent on forging a common understanding of where you’d like to be.

punctuation & the value statement

the value statement provides a framework to organize the design activities which follow.

tell the story

tell the story

conversations about future releases tend to begin with a feature roadmap.

tell the story

releases should be built on how you envision users engaging with your product.

tell the story

storytelling is less about putting users in segments, more about understanding their motivations, intentions and expectations.

tell the story

storytelling encourages teams to momentarily forget the roadmap, and focus on what will help users fulfill their objectives.

With Plazes, we started simple.

tell the story

the plazes team told the story of a product whose features dissolved naturally into users’ existing behavior.

punctuation & storytelling

the stories teams tell capture experiences that reduce frustration and celebrate engagement and extension.

punctuation & storytelling

storytelling strongly links an appreciation for users’ needs with ideas for how to fulfill them.

punctuation & storytelling

from these stories, a feature set (and roadmap) aligned with current and future users is able to emerge.

atomize the features

atomize the features

with a common goal and user stories to fulfill, its helpful to understand the core elements of the product’s feature set.

Some people would refer to it as the “atomic structure.”

atomize the features

what’s the easiest way to sort out what features lie at the core of your product?

Working within constraints.

Communicate presence as simply as possible.

Peeling the onion.
photo credit:

“Ride the winners” - Rich Skrenta []

Nail the core feature. Everything else will follow.

punctuation & atomization

atomization refines teams’ priorities for development and execution.

punctuation & atomization

a trend towards simplification feeds back into the entire design process, simplifying the product and enabling differentiation.

tidy the seams

conway’s law

"organizations which design systems are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations."

conway’s law in a design context

design tends to be a function of the team that put it together.

Which is how you end up with the product you’ve got.
photo credit:

Check-in Channels
PC: via Plazer

Publishing Channels

Presence Hub

Mobile: via SMS

Myspace / Social Networking Profiles

Plazes DB
Mobile: via Client Instant Messenger

Manual Check in WEB / Email

“Plaze” = Location + Network + User generated content

Active Alerts via RSS / Email / SMS

Channels get built in silos.

tidy the seams

the silo-ed way in which you built the channels are not the way in which people are experiencing them.

tidy the seams

commonality of experience

Identical commands in all channels. Yay!

Engage in thoughtful restraint.
photo credit:

Neither thoughtful nor restrained.

Much better.

tidy the seams

reduce noise where you can

punctuation & tidy seams

this is the thoughtful work that user-centered design is known for, spread across all the existing channels of your product.

final thoughts

evolution is a tricky business.

a reminder

consider carefully before evolving too fast. your current audience and your team’s cohesion are both at risk.

a piece of advice

if survival dictates rapid differentiation, build on the core value you already offer.

and finally

best of luck, and thank you for your attention.