The truth is, nobody knew if this was going to work. It was, after all, a terrible idea.
The idea was this: Sell a service that nobody’s ever heard of. Something that, even when you explain it, comes across as vague and abstract, and of questionable value. Then introduce it to a rapidly shrinking market, as an entire industry goes into free fall. Tough sell.
That’s what it was to be one of the seven of us back in 2001, introducing ourselves to the world as Adaptive Path and declaring ourselves “user experience consultants.” It was fun and exhilarating and scary as hell, in a way that only a truly terrible idea can be.
I think the nature of how we started determined how we would always be: looking at old problems in new ways, pushing ourselves to try new approaches, and reaching out and exchanging ideas with our peers in the larger community. We’ve evolved as a company since those early days, but that underlying philosophy remains the same.
Our terrible idea worked. We have launched and honed some of the most popular conferences and workshops in experience design. We have invented new things and shared ideas that had more influence than we ever expected.
We’ve been fortunate to collaborate with some of the smartest organizations and most talented teams to solve some of their hardest problems: NPR, Flickr, Harvard Business Review, Twitter, Airbnb. We have done great work and I am incredibly proud of what we’ve accomplished and the talented team that has helped make this all possible. We’ve had a lot of good parties, and made a lot of friends, but we still have a lot of things to do and great days ahead of us.
Over the years, we’ve talked to a lot of people who wanted to buy our business. The trouble is that few of them were actually interested in everything we do. Maybe they just needed a bunch of digital product design resources, and the strategy, research, and service design work would fall by the wayside. Or they valued our designers, but not the program management and support functions that we find critical to the success of our project teams. Or they’d take our consultants, but our events business would be closed up or sold off.
None of that ever sat well with us. It felt like they valued what we had built, but not the purpose for which we built it: to advance the practice of experience design, in all its forms, whether directly through our own design work, or indirectly through our events, training, publishing, and public speaking. It felt like nobody really got it.
You can see where this is going, right? Somebody came along who finally, truly, seemed to get it. A company with a great culture that shares and values our intellectual curiosity and design sensibilities, that wants us to continue doing great work inside their organization, but also continue helping others do great work too, by fostering dialogue and teaching what we have learned. And that somebody, remarkably, turned out to be Capital One.
I know, weird, right?
Believe me, no one here was more skeptical than I was. I simply could not imagine that a huge bank would be able to foster an environment of creativity in which we could truly flourish. But honestly, when it comes to truly human-centered thinking, Capital One is among the top tier of all the organizations I have worked with in 15 years of consulting.
As a design consultant, I have learned to pay attention to how organizations think about and value design. And what I’ve found is that there’s a particular mindset or approach to the work that seems to go hand-in-hand with success. And that mindset, as demonstrated by the Capital One people I’ve met, is what ultimately made me want to work with them.
They’ve already laid the groundwork. They’ve built sophisticated practices in digital product design, design thinking, and experience research and development that we can build on and cross-pollinate with our own practices. They’ve hired tremendously talented people – but more than talent, what they bring is that mindset.
They ask good questions. They have a culture that favors collaboration and iteration. They are thinking about what’s next and what they need to do to get there. They want to try new things, both at the level of big strategic moves and at the level of experimenting with new tools and methods. The more people we meet at Capital One, the stranger it seems that they all work for a bank, of all places. They are genuinely creative, collaborative, and, well, fun people.
I’m not the only one who thinks so. Everyone from Adaptive Path who is joining Capital One made the decision for themselves to be a part of this exciting next chapter. We are going into this together.
And by together, I mean really together. We’re staying in our beautiful space on Pier 1 in San Francisco. We’re staying together as a group, and we’re not retiring the name. That’s right: both inside Capital One and to the outside world, we will continue to be known as Adaptive Path.
And speaking of the outside world: Although our consulting business will be closing down as we focus on solving experience design problems for Capital One, we will continue to publish our thoughts on our work right here at adaptivepath.com. You’ll still see us around, speaking at conferences and attending meetups.
And we’ll continue to put together our conferences and workshops, such as UX Week, UX Intensive, and the Service Experience Conference. The events we’ve announced are planned to go forward, and we’re looking forward to announcing some of our 2015 events soon.
As we say goodbye to our role as outside consultants, I would like to offer a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has been a part of our consulting projects over the years: Adaptive Path practitioners, contractors, and especially the extraordinary clients we’ve been privileged to work alongside. We have approached every engagement as a learning opportunity, and we’ve learned so very much from all of you.
And obviously, I have to thank my fellow founders of Adaptive Path – Lane Becker, Janice Fraser, Mike Kuniavsky, Peter Merholz, Jeffrey Veen, and Indi Young – for everything they did to make the company what it ultimately came to be. I see their influence in every decision we’ve made up to this moment. And it was only through the efforts of our board members Bryan Mason and Jeffrey Veen, and our longstanding members of the leadership team, Brandon Schauer and Laura Kirkwood-Datta, that we were able to make this partnership happen.
We can’t wait to share with you some of the cool stuff we’re going to be working on. In many ways, this is exactly the kind of problem Adaptive Path was created to solve: helping a company with the resources, but more importantly the will, to reimagine its strategies, processes, and design solutions to create better experiences for millions of people. It’s a level of impact we’ve never had before, and we’re excited to be here at this moment.
It kind of feels like where we were headed all along.