Last week, with Tom Kervin and @john.grant, we had a nice chat about the identification of user needs. Tom brought an entire least of frameworks:
What user needs mean?
- What people are trying to do (goals)
- What they’re actually doing (tasks)
- Where they are (contexts)
- How they act (behaviours)
- How they feel (emotions)
- What their mental models are (beliefs)
- Where their pain points are (problems)
- What capacities they have (capabilities)
What are all the ways [for user research]?
- Mental models
- Task analysis
- Market Research
- Implicit Bias Studies
- Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique??
- Contextual Interview
- Lean Customer Development
- Lean Startup
- Sales Safari
- SenseMaker from Cognitive Edge
- Usability Testing
- Usability / Feasibility / Desirability /
- Growth Hacking
- Future Insight
- Market-first / Product-first
- Product-Market Fit
- Go To Market
Each of those is almost a domain in its own, and as we were going down the rabbit hole, I have realised quite surprising (to me, because it was obvious to others) dependency - none of those will work if you don’t have a proper target group or you have a wrong one.
To give a complete picture to anyone interested in the subject, we have created two not-exactly-in-line perspectives. Let us know, whether this is useful.
John’s write up
As machine intelligence becomes more pervasive, I suspect user-centred design will more likely occur in the context of nonlinear emergent processes. The Two Loops Model by Wheatley and Frieze (Berkana Institute) illustrates the lifecycle overlap of the old and the new. User needs will evolve in both contexts.
Awareness of user needs in systems in decline are as important as aligning needs with emergent systems. I would like to see if it’s possible to map the two loops as an organisation attempts a radical redesign or migration, and in particular how needs can be met in terms of ongoing maintenance.
Diagram: The Berkana Institute’s Two Loop model
Tom’s write up
We were mapping for as-yet unknown user needs. When you have an existing business with — crucially — people paying you money for products or services, you can triangulate user needs from transactions of value: what do people pay you for. These are important user needs to understand, and that’s why Know The User is in the first tranche of Doctrine.
But what about when you’re trying to learn about a user need you don’t yet serve? What about when you’re trying to learn about the user needs in an audience you don’t yet have?
What if we map, using the business’ need to know the user need as the anchor.
This is the realm of customer research, customer development, and market research. How do these map out? What does that mean for people like me who work in this area?
Within these fields there are more and less established techniques and approaches – and more and less effective techniques and approaches. It also becomes clear that approaches have evolved over time under competition. Understanding user needs more deeply and completely than your competition is a winning advantage.
how does context play in?
I suppose you could argue that there are bigger building blocks we can look at. We can clump the approaches together and see what they’re built on top of.
Where does market research come from?
I remember seeing a discussion of the difference between market and customer research being their backgrounds: market research from sociology vs customer research being from ethnography (and user research from ergonomics). Some say the split is between what people say vs what they do, but there are an increasing number of marketers who recognise people can’t usually tell you the answers.
Another way you could break down user needs is by how established the need is. Copywriters talk about understanding a prospect’s awareness:
problem unaware: not aware that they have a need at all
problem aware: a niggling need, but they either don’t know the need can be met or it’s not a big enough need to bother
solution aware: the need is clear enough that they’re actively looking into how to meet it, considering options
product aware: they are implicitly clear about their need and know that your specific product could meet the need
There’s an evolution here, like on any map. A user need can move from unrecognised to vague awareness, through increasing levels of frustration, up to the point where the person does something to meet their need.
Some of the popular models of buying cycles go something like this:
Unawareness –> Problem recognition –> Interest –> Consideration –> Justification –> Purchase –> Follow up
But this is an overly rationalistic view of the purchase cycle. And it doesn’t take into account the fact that a person may well start doing something to meet a need poorly before they’re consciously aware of the need, or able to express it.
It’s understood from Jobs To Be Done (which is basically old user ethnography in a C-suite tie and jacket) that an explicit JTBD may have between 5 and 25 hidden emotional and social JTBD along with it.
One of the critical insights to start with is that — in user research at least — “user needs” is a kind of shorthand for a bunch of information about the user. Explicit and implicit goals are the building blocks, and these are both affected by context.
Chris’ write up
Later, when I draw a map (we run out of time during the meeting), it become even more apparent to me that user needs exists have different levels of associated uncertainty. Some can be analysed with very analytical tools (JTBD), some require experimentation, and some rely on user manipulation.
What is extremely interesting is that Tom sees the situation to be a little bit different:
which is puzzling and worth further investigation of what Tom knows that I do not. But notice the main point - there is the ethnographic factor
on the bottom of the map.
That ethnographic factors complicates the whole picture, as it is no longer about user need identification, but about finding the right group of people and matching their situation with a proper research tool. I am afraid this is not the clear answer I was hoping to find and certainly not the one I wanted to see.
Tom attempted to paint a picture of what do you need to apply a particular tool. It forms another interesting cycle - given what is your hypothesis about the user need, you pick a different method of testing it, and apply different approaches to potential target group selection.
One size does not fit all. Be creative.