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A Faster Horse

If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse. - Henry Ford

I’ve read a handful of articles online that have used that Henry Ford quote, or cited Steve Jobs talking about how customers often don’t know what they want. Every time I read one, I come away believing that innovation happens when you provide a solution people didn’t know they were looking for.

The false implication of those articles, though, is that people don’t know the problem either. And that’s not really true.

This post by Des Traynor is a nice reminder on what user studies are really about…

These posts ignore the fact that no one credible working in user experience design asks users “what do you want” and then delivers it. That’s not what it’s about. Dan Saffer put it very well in this old IXDA thread. The most common misconception about design research is that you are asking users what the design should be. You aren’t (or shouldn’t be). The best design research I’ve been involved in is about three things:
  1. Unmet needs. Usually unspoken and unrealized. Yes, people would have asked for a faster horse, but what is the need there? To travel longer distances quicker. The automobile was the solution to that need.
  2. Pain points. Where is what is being done now difficult?
  3. Opportunities. Where is there a space for a product or service that would meet those unmet needs or fix the pain points?
Then it is our job to design the solution.