His design firm is working on all kinds of interesting projects using a method which I found very reminiscent to what we do as agile web application developers.
Firstly Frederik said his clients always want them to provide a straight path to a successful product design. He says that this is pretty much impossible due to what he calls the dual speeds of innovation going on in everything.
What this means is that designers (and developers) have traditionally focused on features. Features are basically lead by the designers or developers of the project, thus the speed of feature innovation is pretty much up to the designers. However as he says there is another slower path of innovation which is much more evolutional, which in particular involve peoples habits and cultural changes as a whole.
This is a lot harder to control and while new features can help nudge things in a direction, it can’t control where you’re going.
His recommendation is to not go straight for the end goal, but rather realize from the beginning that your current goal is but a point in a probably unpredictable future path.
An example of this was the whole Virtual Reality craze of the 90’s. The technology was there (VRML) but the cultural changes weren’t quite there yet. Now Second Life has taken off in many peoples imagination, although he as well as I think it’s probably not anywhere near the final point along a very wiggly path.
So what can you take along from this? Basically you need to keep innovating and keep testing. Smaller less obvious paths, might be better rather than trying to change the world in one go. This is of course what agile development is all about as well. See if features work, if they help the culture or the market to evolve.
This is pretty much what we are doing with Agree2 as well. It is now very different from what I envisioned a year ago. I’m sure in a year once we have real users using it will have evolved some where I haven’t planned. That said we do know what direction we want to head more or less and in particular where we don’t want to head. The path though is not entirely up to us.