Users can’t predict what features they “need”


Product Managers often turn to gathering requirements about their product by talking to the customers, asking them what their requirements are. Talking to internal stakeholders like sales, marketing etc and drawing up a list of features. Sounds like a great process to go about designing a product or feature, just one problem… Users don’t know what they want until they see what they get.

People didn’t know what features they needed in an iPhone. They just needed to be able to do some things like: staying in contact with friends, checking your favorite websites, want a phone that is easy to understand, knowing upfront how much it’s going to cost to use the phone etc

In an interview, Maryam Mohit, the guy responsible for online customer experience at Amazon talks about how the collaborative filtering navigation mechanism for book recommendations on Amazon.com was inspired by users, but didn’t come directly from their comments

“It’s a combination of listening really hard to customers, and innovating on their behalf. For example, quite awhile ago we developed the “similarities” feature – the one that says “people who bought this also bought that.” In focus groups, no customer ever specifically requested that feature. But if you listened to customers talk about how they buy things, they’d say, my friend bought this, and I like what they like. In other words, they get recommendations from people they trust. There was a cognitive leap, based on those comments, to realizing that we could create something like that based on the data we had. That’s an example where there was a need expressed by customers, but the innovation was taking that general need and making the leap to a technology that meets that need in a new way.”

What’s really needed is to identify the unmet needs and gaining insight into customer’s real problems. We can’t accomplish this by asking them what they want but observing them over a period of time, figuring out what they’re struggling with, gain insights into their deep-seated desires and innovate on their behalf.

Note: No one said it was easy :)

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About Sachendra Yadav

Mobilist and Social Media enthusiast
This entry was posted in User Experience and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Users can’t predict what features they “need”

  1. afhill says:

    This is a great insight. I worked in the User Experience department at a major information solutions provider for several years, and it was about responding to needs and desires that users weren’t even necessarily aware of themselves.

    Often clients may come to a development or strategic partner and say “give me this”. I am one of those people who likes to take a step back and say “wait.. what do you want to achieve, and let the experts figure out how to get there”.

    I read the book “Subject to Change” by the smart folks at Adaptive Path, and I really admire their view on things. They focus on solutions, rather than products.

  2. Afhill,

    I’ll definitely check out this book. Thanks for stopping by and commenting

  3. ankur says:

    That is also the reason why Agile is getting more into practice now a days….u involve customers early, show them prototypes. take early feedback.

    Users know what they want, but the problem is often they dont know what they can get, they try to think under the present situation, and we as techies are thinking in future.

    And its first more important to understand the problem/need, before we go out looking for a solution/product… However history has proved it can also be done opposite, create a product and then create need (mouthwash)

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