As Far As I Can Tell

Thesis essay: Adaptive Products

Last week I presented my thesis essay on adaptive products to my colleagues and fellow students at Carnegie Mellon. Today I’d like to share it here in hopes that it will reach a wider audience of people who are interested in the topic.

Adaptive Products: Designing for evolution through use

Designers use various methods to better understand their intended users and create products that are useful, usable, and desirable. Unfortunately this research usually focuses only on the present. When users and contexts change products can lose these qualities, causing unforeseen and undesirable consequences. I’m interested in how products can evolve through use and investigate this idea by exploring three concepts: product, to understand what is changing, autonomy, to appreciate people’s individual and collective involvement in the process, and adaptation, to learn how evolution happens and how designers can enable and encourage it.

Products hold profound influence over people’s behavior and experiences. Because of this, designers have an obligation to anticipate possible future contexts and allow people the flexibility and freedom to make modifications as needed. Adaptive products employ an evolutionary strategy and a flexible architecture to allow for changes while maintaining a cohesive whole. This can be done through “layers of change,” modular components of a product that can evolve at different rates of speed. Evolution can happen on a micro scale in the context of an individual but also at a macro scale as designers facilitate and engage with user communities.

Download: my thesis essay [PDF 307K]
Download: the essay presentation [PDF 3.1MB]



Hi Simon, I read your thesis over my last few lunch breaks. I could probably fill several pages of pure response— too much for this forum anyhow. I would like to say that I found the work to be very compelling— it will have me thinking/rethinking for quite awhile. Particularly, I was most attracted to your general sense of analogy. You manage to take a highly diverse cast of source materials and examples and knit them into a fairly singular and coherent argument. Good stuff. Say hi to Meredith for me.

Posted by: Max Jaksa on February 9, 2007 5:00 PM

Thanks Max. It makes my day to know that you read my paper and got something out of it. Good to hear from you.

Posted by: Simon on February 9, 2007 5:23 PM

As far as who can tell?

Chicago, IL

Also available via RSS.

Micro Updates