The Change Function

“Want the big idea? Make a product that makes everything I have easy to use”

– my dad, in response to hearing I wanted to be an entrepreneur

Eight years later the gravity of my dad’s statement is greater than ever. The impact that a product’s usability has on its ultimate market performance continues to grow.

I’ve had the pleasure of spending my entire career commercializing new technology across companies in diverse industries. The usability (or lack-thereof) has always factored significantly into the technology’s ultimate success.

If you’re not thinking about usability, deeply, and practicing user-centric design practices, actively, then, well, good luck to you!

It’s something that’s always on my mind. And so during a recent trip to Palo Alto I picked up a book on the topic, Pip Coburn’s The Change Function.

In it Coburn presents a change function to explain the adoption of new technology:

f (user crises, total perceived pane of adoption)

Where adoption occurs when user crisis > total perceived pane of adoption.

Coburn chastises a tech world for its arrogant, supplier-side approach to product development. The “build it and they will come” mentality has far too often resulted in overly complex technology being developed that ultimately fails.

Ideally, Coburn argues, companies should leverage user-centric approaches to product design. Working collaboratively with users, through quick, iterative designs, companies can transition data into information and ultimately into insight.

There are a number of interesting case studies and worthwhile questions that can help guide user-centric design. The most valuable message that the book delivers is how important ease-of-use is to a product’s success and how focusing on the user keeps the focus true.

At 200 pages the book could use some editing. It would make a good 150-page book. The message is excellent at 100 pages. However, if you don’t practice user-centric design I highly recommend this. If the message is lost on you, read it again. The lesson’s that important.