Developing the next big thing isn’t done by putting a bunch of your best people in a room and waiting for inspiration to strike in time for the production deadline. Rather, it’s informed by getting out into the world, immersing yourself into people’s lives and building empathy and understanding for their needs and desires. We therefore start every project by understanding what is needed before creating ways to solve for those needs. We didn’t make this up. This is what design thinking and user centered design are all about.
How We Discover Unmet Needs
To understand the challenges people face—and the workarounds they’ve created—we need to get up close and personal.
Looking to what others are doing for inspiration and context. We usually look to websites and trend reports to see what’s happening both inside and outside a specific industry.
Becoming users ourselves to gain empathy.
Watching, listening, taking it all in. We don’t talk to anyone, but spend time in a relevant location to gather high-level information about what’s happening and patterns that are emerging.
Social Media Mining
Looking at content posted to social media to see what people do before, during and after specific events to find patterns that point to opportunities.
Talking to people who know a lot more than any of us about what’s going on in a certain field.
Talking with people, often leadership, inside the company we’re working with, to understand their hopes for a project.
Person-on-the-street-type interviews. Spending a few minutes with a random cross-section of people to give us their thoughts and perceptions on a topic quickly and at low cost.
Going deep, in context, with a smaller group of people. We recruit these people to help us really understand what they need. They are experts in whatever we’re working on.
How We Act on Unmet Needs
As we’re collecting information, we have to figure out what to do with it. This translation of what we’ve seen and heard into what needs to be done is the most important part of the process. It’s not easy, but it’s also not as hard as many people think.
Here’s some tools we use to organize research so that others can understand what we’ve found. We’ve got a bunch more in our Frameworks Library.
Using the Compelling Experiences framework to understand what happens before, during, and after an experience to identify problems and opportunities.
Some people call them criteria, imperatives, or a bunch of other words. They all mean the same thing: directives for design based on user need.
The Big Why
Understanding what you do, how you do it and why you do it can help you best connect what you do with what people need. It’s a great exercise codified by Simon Sinek in this snappy (though slightly dated) TED Talk. (Be careful, it’s easy to get sucked into that site for hours…)
The Creative Design Process
Once we’ve synthesized all the things we’ve learned from stakeholders, experts, users, secondary research, etc., we’ve got to actually do something with it to get it into people’s hands. What that is depends greatly on the challenge to solve, but it could be a new brand, a novel experience or a good story.