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Adaptive Products: Designing for Evolution rough Use - page 3 / 31





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On the website for any given design irm you can ind a diagram that shows their process. There are differences in the number of steps and the words they use, but invariably it begins with research and ends with releasing a product. Starting with research is important because we as designers are solving other people’s problems. We inform product decisions by immersing ourselves in the appropriate context, researching people’s lives, and testing our ideas. If a deep focus on the intended user is maintained then the product can end up being useful, usable, and desirable. Unfortunately, it can also lose those qualities over time; people change, context shifts, and fashion flops. When products are put to unexpected uses, new demands are placed on them, and they become obsolete. Despite good intentions designers focus too much on today and neglect to consider how products might evolve in the future. Architect Christopher Alexander contrasts this to nature, where you have “continuous very-small-feedback-loop adaptation going on, which is why things get to be harmonious . . . If it wasn’t for the time dimension, it wouldn’t happen.”1 Just as there is no end to the process in the natural world, creating products that evolve will require those process diagrams to be updated, stretched, and looped.

I discovered firsthand how the changing needs of people can diminish the usefulness of a product through an organization and website called Moped Army. I co-founded this group of moped enthusiasts nearly a decade ago to bring together people with a shared interest in these vehicles, rarified in the United States because of a brief importation period. To organize the group I built a website to allow for communication amongst members and

1 Stewart Brand, How Buildings Learn: What happens after they’re built (London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1995), 21.

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