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In day to day life, we use need and want interchangeably. Let’s understand what need and want actually means.

A need is the basic essential item. You need food, water, air, shelter to survive. A want is placing some personal preference(something you wish for) as to how that need must be fulfilled.

I need something to eat, I am hungry.
I want to eat noodles (your preference; even though there are other food items in the house)

Most of the marketing is in the want-fulfilling business, not the need-fulfilling business. Apple does not want you to buy just any watch, they want you to want to buy an Apple Watch. Likewise, Calvin Klein wants you to want their trunks when you shop for undergarments. On the other hand, a non-profit such as the any Cancer Association would like you to feel a need for a check-up and does not care which doctor you go to. So for businesses, marketing is mostly interested in creating and satisfying wants.

Let’s talk about products

When you are creating a product or improving an existing one, you have identified that there are a large number of people who are facing the same problem and your product is going to help them achieve what they need. Consumer problem solving is triggered by the identification of some unmet need.

The next question is what problem are the users facing? Certainly, they will tell you what issues they are facing but they will also tell you what they need.

Eg: The user might say, it gets cold around 5 in the evening so I want a tea around 5 pm to drink. However, you might deduce from probing further that they just need something hot to keep them warm so even coffee or hot chocolate will do the work.

You shouldn’t do blindly what the users are saying

You shouldn’t design what users tell you they want. You might be thinking, “Aren’t we supposed to be an advocate for users and help them reach their goals.” Sure, but that doesn’t mean you need to build exactly what they ask for. We shouldn’t take the request at face value and design whatever they say they want.

Eg: If you ask a child what they want to eat, they may say chocolate. But the parents know that what they actually need is healthy balanced food.

What should we do instead of blindly listening to the users?

It is not that we shouldn’t listen to the users. We should listen to the users but we should try to interpret what the real need is.

Find the Unmet needs = goals + pain points
What is that they are trying to achieve (goal) and what is preventing them from achieving it (pain points)

Carefully consider their feedback, but don’t forget to ask why they want what they want. Dig deeper to figure out the user’s root problem.

Too many designers are in the pattern of simply taking user feedback and implementing it immediately with limited research, questioning, or thought.

Eg: A person waiting at the bus stop for hours

If you ask someone waiting for hours at the bus stop, they would say:
I have been waiting for hours, this is making me mad, why can’t the bus come on time. I left my home on time to catch the bus and have been waiting here for 1 hour now. Don’t I have other things to do?!

Now if you might think that people just want the bus to be on time — so you might be thinking of ways to make the bus faster, how to reduce traffic so that it is not stuck, dedicated stop for buses so it doesn’t keep on stopping everywhere.

But you need to dig deeper to understand the cause of the underlying issue. Upon further investigation, they might say:
I know the bus comes at 11 AM and so I leave the house 10 minutes before to reach on time. I am trying to learn to play the guitar and I could have spent this time playing guitar at home if I knew when the bus was arriving.

As you see, the real need is a way to know when the bus is arriving so that they can manage their schedule around and not waste time waiting for the bus.

How do you know for real what they need?

Let’s say you did qualitative research and you have deduced what they need. How do you know for sure, if what you have figured out is what they need? Because what you have done is taken a guess. In the above example, you figured out(took a guess) that they need a time tracking system for the arrival of the bus.

This need can be found out by experimenting and testing the hypothesis(need). If they actually need the things they said they want or what you have deduced from talking to them.

Netflix applies experimental thinking to design. Credit: Navin Iyengar talk at Awwwards Conference

Eg: Netflix asked the users what is one thing they would like to know more about before signing up on Netflix? 46% of users in the survey wanted to see all movies and TV shows available.

Netflix team formed a hypothesis — By showing people what the catalog is before they signup for Netflix will make them more likely to signup for Netflix.

When they did qualitative research — people said that yes this is what they want to signup for Netflix. So they made different prototypes to test the hypothesis. When they observe the users using it, the Netflix team found that the users were mostly in shopping mode. They were looking for specific content and if they wanted to watch that then they would signup.

So the team at Netflix believed that maybe this is not the best idea. Later, they did an A/B test to prove this further. They still wanted to listen to users so they modified the home page with the knowledge they got during the testing.


Everything the users say they need or want should be tested by creating a hypothesis and structure the session so you can observe what they do, not what they say they want.


Consumer behaviour — needs and wants and goals
Personas, jobs to be done, user needs = goals + pain points
Don’t design what users want

Product Designer with an experimental mindset

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