How to Design Experiences the Adaptive Path Way! (Or Not.)

It’s a conversation I’ve had many times with fellow designers over the years.

THEM: Hey, Adaptive Path! We use your (insert name of tool or method here) all the time!

ME: That’s great!

THEM: Well, I have to confess that we don’t quite use it the way you’d want…

ME: (frowns)

Now, that frown you see may not be for the reason you think. I’m not frowning because people don’t follow the methods we share to the letter. I’m frowning because they seem to think that’s a problem.

It really gets right back to the reason we talk about our methods in the first place.

In the course of a given year, an experience designer may have the opportunity to take on as many as half a dozen discrete projects—if they’re lucky. Usually it’s fewer than that. That simply doesn’t afford an individual many test cases to try out new ways to do our work. Constrained by our own first-hand experience, the evolution of each designer’s practice would be very slow indeed.

So we look to each other. We talk to the other designers we work with, if we’re lucky enough to have them. We go to conferences, design jams, and local meetups. We read books and blog posts. And our practice is enriched as a result.

But! This whole arrangement only works if we feed back what we’ve learned into the larger system. By sharing what we’ve learned, we raise each other up. But we can’t extend and build on the knowledge we’ve received if we aren’t willing to tinker with it. Experiment. Maybe break a few things.

I’ve often described my point of view on this as, “Take what you can use, leave the rest.” But on reflection, it may be more accurate to say: “Take what you can use now, save the rest for another day.” Tools and methods are created in the context of solving particular problems, and just because something isn’t a good fit now doesn’t mean it won’t be useful later. It’s about increasing the number and diversity of tools at your disposal, not strict adherence to a particular doctrine.

We don’t share our methods because we’re dogmatic about them. It’s quite the opposite, actually: We share our methods because we want to see them evolve, change, and grow.

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