Understanding User Needs

I’ve heard this gem a few times now when an agency claims to have moved beyond user centered design principles.
“we’ve moved beyond user needs, and we focus on what the user cares about”

It sounds good. It really does. Unfortunately, all it does is illustrate a lack of understanding on the finer points of how your users think: We may not always be able to articulate it, or satisfactorily explain it, but the things we care about are things we care about for a reason. We only care about the things that meet some of our needs, even if those needs are non-technical, or are specific and unique to our particular and unique mental position. They have moved beyond nothing, but they dress it differently, and risk making some easily avoided fundamental errors in their quest for new buzzwords.

For example; a user might care about the colour of something, because the colour speaks to their past experiences, or it might make it difficult for them to see things due to a quirk of their eyesight (something like 0.7% of the population has some form of colour vision deficiency, but for men it is one in twelve).

We care about things, because they satisfy a need, whether that is task based, or a more personal and general need.

Claiming that you focus on what they care about more than focusing on what they need is a very dangerous minefield purposefully chosen only by those more interested in hip jargon rather than substance; instead you should study what they care about to determine what needs it satisfies, and weight it accordingly.

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