Needs, Wants And The Great Wall Of Human Fickleness

User-centered design is arguably the single most influential framework by which interfaces are created today. The core of UCD is to meet the needs and wants of end users of a system. Few would doubt that UCD is a good thing. Machines that pass off the illusion of patience and sympathy and a prescient anticipation of what we want to do next is in fact, a very good thing.

When we decide to introduce new product, it’s a very tricky proposition because we’re effectively trying to bring something new and most likely frivolous into a user’s world. This is distinct from a project whereby a team has been hired to meet needs or wants that a user community is conscious of and seeks help on. One of the most formidable and often-neglected obstacles towards successful product adoption is the lack of appreciation for how high and thick that user’s wall really is.

When assessing the viability of your new product, it’s important to weigh the core reasons and motivators of why people would consider and potentially use your product.

A new product aimed at a broad audience must peg these "wants and needs" with little validation. In this post, I’m going to humbly attempt to categorize the types of needs that may motivate a user to try a new product.

Basic (Primal) Needs

pink_sprinkled_donut This is the easiest to peg and thus requires the least design work because the needs are so obvious and strong. If I created a complex and painfully confusing sign-up process that led to a $100 check being mailed to you no strings attached, people would tolerate it and go to great lengths to trudge through that process.

If we’re providing a service that meets a basic and obvious need or desire, then we can worry less about the user experience. Pornography is another good example of this category (though I’m not going to spilt hairs here between needs and wants).

Organizational Or Financial Pressure

WORDSTAR Here, the motivation to use your product materializes from the top on down. If you’re able to sell an enterprise CRM application to a CIO or IT manager, their population will have to use it. It’s part of their jobs. They may get trained on it and they may have their gripes about it, but there’s an implicit understanding that you need to work with this tool to get your job done.

While you should still care about the user experience because bad buzz can still catch up with you, the value proposition is different here. It’s more about return-on-investment and "number of transactions per hour" that a decision-maker is going to weigh. In this case, the "needs and wants" are more organizational than individual.

Social Connection

2100634092_ecaf9bae2a This category is a close relative of the Basic Needs category above. We love to be connected to, talking to, sharing pictures with, befriending (quote-unquote) other human beings. We are social animals and any tool that highlights and enhances our social connections is appealing to us.

If my good friend from high school is on a particular social network, I may well sign up to whatever service to connect with her. Myspace and Facebook are the most obvious examples of products that feed off this need.

Utility Applications

philips-head-screwdriver This is the toughest category to define because it’s so broad. The products in this category rarely serve their own end but rather help us meet a multitude of needs. Word processing, email and web searching all fall into this category. They lie somewhere in the middle of the assembly line that leads to our goals.

Be very wary of introducing products into this category because utility applications are used heavily and constantly. As a result, the patterns and habits run very deep for many users. People get good at bad habits. When you’re thinking through your product’s value proposition and if it falls into this category, be sure to apply a heavy tax.

"It’s Just So Darn Perty"

There are other, less critical factors that may drive one’s needs. A product may be emotionally or aesthetically appealing. For example, Apple’s hardware is intuitive and speaks to our desire to be associated with physically attractive objects.

What Is Your User Plan?

great_china_wall_view You’ll often hear that a good business plan clearly states the problem or "pain" that its addressing. After all, without defining that need or want, why bother executing on a product? This is all well and good for business plans and overarching strategies, but it’s critical to carry through that analysis down to the humans that need to interact with your product. What is the source of their existing pain? How will your product help? Which category of need are you going after and are you ready to disrupt their current way of doing things, however flawed it may be. It’s great to have a business plan, but what’s your user plan?

If people are going to touch your product, then be wary of their fickleness, tolerance and sensibilities. They may not seem like much, but when they work in concert against you, they are nearly insurmountable.

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