Peter Merholz

Peter Merholz

Experience design strategist, coiner of the word "blog".

  • @peterme/

Areas of Expertise:

  • management
  • product strategy
  • product design
  • user experience
  • ethnography
  • agile processes
  • consulting
  • training
Peter Merholz is President and one of the founders of Adaptive Path. For more than six years, Peter has been instrumental in developing Adaptive Path's ability to provide world-class consulting, training, and public events.

At Adaptive Path, Peter began with a focus on information architecture, and over time expanded his knowledge to include product strategy, user research, and practice development. He's worked with a wide variety of clients, from large companies such as Intel, Vanguard, and United Airlines, to smaller, avant-garde firms like SocialText (an enterprise wiki startup) and Rojo (an RSS feedreader acquired by Six Apart).

Peter's personal blog, http://peterme.com/, and his essays for Adaptive Path demonstrate his foresight on issues of information architecture, organizational change, and product strategy. He has the perhaps dubious distinction of coining of the term "blog" in 1999 when it was still a nascent genre.

Subject To Change: Creating Great Products & Services for an Uncertain World Subject To Change: Creating Great Products & Services for an Uncertain World
by Peter Merholz, Todd Wilkens, Brandon Schauer, David Verba
April 2008
Print: $24.99
Ebook: $19.99

Peter blogs at:

Teams are the key to ongoing design success

June 03 2014

When presenting my philosophy of design organizations, I show this slide:   On the left, comprised of 5 robot lions (stay with me…), you have super robot Voltron, Defender of the Universe.  On the right, 5 unicorns. The unicorns refer to the “design unicorn” a designer skilled at interaction design, visual design, and front-end development. They’re “unicorns”… read more

STEM into STEAM into STREAM

May 29 2014

STEM is the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, and is used when talking about what we need Our Young People to study in order for the United States to Stay Competitive in the world. John Maeda, formerly president of RISD and now a design partner at KPCB, popularized… read more

Software, hardware, purpose, and agency–first thoughts from Solid

May 21 2014

Rodney Brooks gave the first presentation at Solid Conference, talking about the integration of software and hardware in robotics. For decades, industrial robots were programmatically simple, performing the same action over and over again–not all that distinct from the machines that preceded them. Brooks, though, is interested in how software… read more

The key, overarching insight from CREATIVITY, INC.

May 19 2014

Creativity, Inc., by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace, is an important work, not just as a business book, but as a piece of non-fiction. In it, Catmull shares his hard-won lessons on management from 40 years of work, the last 30 as President at Pixar. Just given Pixar’s unparalleled success,… read more

Why I’m Grateful to Massimo Vignelli

May 10 2014

News spread over the past day that legendary graphic designer Massimo Vignelli is terminally ill at his home in New York City. There will be a lot said about his contributions to design, notably the New York City Subway Graphic Language, American Airlines’ long standing logo, even stackable dinnerware. I… read more

The Seduction of the Superficial in Digital Product Design

May 06 2014

Digital product design discourse over the last few years has become literally superficial. Much (most?) of the attention has been on issues like ‘flat’ vs ‘skeuomorphic,’ the color scheme of iOS7, parallax scrolling, or underlining links. And not that these things aren’t important or worth discussing, but as someone who came up in design… read more

On the shortcomings of “Minimum Viable Product”

May 05 2014

Christina Wodtke recently wrote “Getting the V Right”, addressing a common failing of Lean Startup practice — successfully establishing viability in your Minimum Viable Product (MVP). I commented there, but felt it worth expanding here. The MVP Incantation My frustration with MVP comes from its reckless use in product management. When launching a feature,… read more

Product strategy and design through the lens of purpose

May 02 2014

Foursquare’s announcement that it’s “splitting” it’s app into two, one focused on local discovery, the other on social connections, resonates with thoughts I’ve been having on the role purpose plays in product design. I first grappled with purpose almost ten years ago, when I interrogated the concept of document genres.… read more

Questioning assumptions in a world with no pants

April 29 2014

I just finished Scott Berkun’s The Year Without Pants, combination memoir and situational analysis of his year-plus working at Automattic, the company behind WordPress. It triggered a series of thoughts that I plan to write. This is the first. Groupon, where I recently worked, has been labelled the fastest-growing company… read more

The Challenge of Hiring Senior Design Leadership

April 22 2014

Over the past few years, I’ve talked to a number of companies about design roles at director and executive levels. And maybe because such leadership is relatively new, I find most of them have been quite naive about such roles. Here’s how I put it in an email to a… read more

I’m about to be self-unemployed

April 14 2014

I have given notice, and my last day at Groupon is April 18. For the past year and a half, I’ve been leading the Design Union (what we call the global design team). When people ask me what I’m most proud of, it’s not the obvious things (like a sitewide… read more

"If you need to convince yourself that experience design is where we should—and can—be, get this book. If you need to convince colleagues and managers, get the book, read it, and pass it on."
--Janice (Ginny) Redish, Technical Communication, Volume 56, Number 4, November 2009

"...a good, practical, hands-on manual for anyone who is responsible for product management or development."
--Sacramento Book Review, September 2008 Issue

"Subject to Change presents an excellent strategic overview of new product development practices for those media and physical interaction products based upon the consulting practice of Adaptive Path. "
--Ira Laefsky, Amazon.com

"Subject to Change is a good book to read if you're into product development or design. If you're staying abreast of the industry trends, most of it is probably not going to be big news to you, nevertheless, it's a good collection of case studies and a summary of rules relevant for modern-day product development."
--Alex Moskalyuk, Slashdot.org

"Subject to Change is required reading for anyone looking to gain a competitive edge in a feature-saturated market...If you can design a better user experience than your competitor, you don’t always need vast resources to outsell them. Subject to Change can help you come up with ideas to make that happen. "
--David Thomas, CustomRetailer

"...consider the book as a ground floor investment on how to innovate in the new world of globalization - this book is about finding that customer niche that you can best fulfill. "
--Jacques Surveyor, The Open Sourcery

"Almost every page, it seems, has an example of a well-known product or company that has either been wildly successful, or should have been as it ticked all the right boxes on paper, yet somehow still failed in the marketplace. The authors’ explorations into why these products failed are illuminating, as in fact is the rest of the book."
--Matt Stephens, Software Reality

"Authors Peter Merholz, Todd Wilkens, Brandon Schauer and David Verba, have done an outstanding job of writing a book that guides organizations large, medium and small through the process of developing the organization's skills and strategies that are essential in successful environments that are constantly changing...By the time you've experimented with the business process techniques contained in this most excellent book, you'll have journeyed well beyond your peers. But, more importantly, you'll be able to assess how well you're set up to successfully deliver products in the future."
--John Vacca, Amazon.com

"The title Subject To Change: Creating Great Products & Services for an Uncertain World is an excellent guide to user centered design as not just a set of principles for making better software but as clear path to thinking of providing services to end users that they are actually wanting and needing...if you have any intentions of starting a business or are already a business owner you should read this book."
--Jeffrey Dalton, User Experience Designer

"Subject to Change is short, concise, and very well-written. It offers up insights on how companies can be more flexible to meet market changes by working in new ways for solid customer research, product design, and agile approaches, among other things. "
--Jim Holmes, FrazzledDad

"Subject To Change guides us through this new environment from a user experience perspective, making a compelling overall case for experience design. And it does so with a sense of urgency: experience design and experience strategy aren’t things you should slowly start getting into. They are crucial to your business. You need to fundamentally transform your relationship with your customers and how you create products. Now. "
--James Kalbach, Experiencing Information

"With its explanation of the importance of customer research (and customer focus), experience design and agile development as keys to success in today's shifting world, the book constitutes a must-read for leaders and all those directly or indirectly involved with product and service development today."
--Manny Hernandez, Blogcritics Magazine

"This book outlines how businesses need to change to truly provide products and services that delight, inspire, and serve the needs of their customers. Unlike many other business books, it's not filled with thinly-veiled platitudes...Subject to Change is an honest accounting of the mercurial world of product and services, and how companies can structure their businesses to develop and deliver truly great experiences for the long haul."
--E. Rutter, Amazon.com

"Subject To Change is one of those books that mark the end of an era of thinking, and challenges companies to rethink their role in the market place. Intelligently written, incredibly easy to understand, and making a lot of sense, it actually puts to word a lot of what I have been seeing in the business world over the last five years...The principles that are outlined in Subject To Change lay down a clear path for the future, and for companies willing to travel down this new highway the rewards will be great. I highly recommend Subject To Change as a road map to the future. "
--T. Michael Testi, Blogcritics Magazine

"Short, but powerful. Easy to read, yet profound. I’ve been searching for just this book: the one perfect book that summarizes the essence of modern product design. This is it. The lessons are as powerful as they are simple: The product is NOT the goal. Successful products are systems. Focus on the experience. This requires empathy, agile product management, real understanding of the target audience. This book practices what it preaches. I will use it in my courses for MBA students. You should use it for, well, for everyone. Short, simple, persuasive, and powerful."
--Don Norman, Author of “Emotional Design” and “Design of Future Things”, Co-Founder Nielsen Norman group

"Customers don’t care about how innovative you are. They just want to be happy and satisfied. Learn from Adaptive Path a passion for finding and solving the problems that will matter to customers no matter what the future brings"
--Scott Berkun, Author, The Myths of Innovation

"Subject to Change presents complex, challenging ideas in simple, compelling language, with illuminating examples and no shortage of memorable phrases. At once authoritative and nimble, the book itself is an example of the kind of experience the authors admire. No matter who you are, it will change the way you think about design."
--Michael Bierut, Partner, Pentagram and Author, 79 Short Essays on Design

"The principles set out in Subject to Change are essential for the design of any product, but especially relevant for the fast-moving world of web software. It used to be the case that a software product was designed once, and refreshed every couple of years. Software is no longer a product. It is a process, a dynamic service that evolves as it responds to constant interaction with its users. The essence of Web 2.0 design is to create a dynamic framework that harnesses the collective intelligence of customers in such a way that the software becomes almost alive. This terrific book teaches the mindset required for this new kind of design."
--Tim O'Reilly

"This book will make you think. Hard. And that’s a good thing. Because you may not be able to outspend or outwork the competition, but you can certainly outthink them. Today, that’s just about all that matters."
--Seth Godin, Author, Meatball Sundae