involvement is one way products can evolve. Economist Eric Von Hippel describes another approach to product evolution in his book, Democratizing Innovation. His research focuses on people who make modi ications to products and he argues that companies can discover unmet needs by observing how and why people adapt products. This points towards product evolution happening on multiple levels: first, people can adapt individual products for their own situations, and then designers can evolve the “of icial” version by learning from these adaptations. All evolution ultimately happens after what is considered the normal design process, after the product has been released into the world. This presents a new challenge for designers as it calls for an ongoing, longer-term engagement with a product and the people using it. It also transfers some of the design control into the hands of the user, requiring a humble acceptance that people using a product deserve to help shape it over time.
What are we talking about anyway when we talk about products? It used to be easier to answer that question than it is today. One used to be able to say that a product was physical, discrete, and mass produced. One could point to it, or hold in one’s hands, take it apart and see how it worked. It was fairly easy to evaluate what it did, how it functioned, and what it was for. Designers were defined by the end result of their work and given titles such as industrial or graphic designer. The definition of a product has expanded though, and as it has changed so have the challenges and responsibilities for designers. Today there are interaction designers, information designers, service designers, and numerous other titles; each of these terms attempts to deal with the changing nature of products. Some of the factors driving these changes are technological, like the miniaturization of