May 31, 2015

“Why Should We Ask Users? Steve Jobs Didn’t!”

Posted in research tagged , , , , at 3:50 pm by mariawolters

In other words, if Apple designs beautiful hardware and software without “asking users what they would like”, we don’t need to ask users what they would like, either.

This way of thinking is a fallacy for two reasons.

Reason 1: It’s not about asking users what they would like, it’s about finding out what users need.

If you don’t give users what they actually need, but what you think they need, then in the best case, nobody buys your product, in the worst case, people die. (See my previous blog post on how a new system for ordering medications in a children’s Intensive Care Emergency Department led to more (entirely preventable) deaths.)

Finding out what users need is hard. You can’t do it by letting your imagination run wild; you need to go into the field, look at the context in which your solutions will be used, how people work right now, and how your proposed solutions might change the way people work for the better or for the worse.

Often, this also involves talking to people, that’s true. But when you talk to people, it’s not so much about what they think should be done, or about what they like or dislike. Rather, likes, dislikes, and suggested solutions are important clues to what users actually need.

Reason 2: You are not Steve Jobs, and neither are you Jony Ives or Tim Cook.1

Apple succeeds because they create tools that make some people’s lives better, and that give some people what they need. The genius of people like Ives and Jobs lies in their ability to discern what needs to be done – and then they work until they’ve got it right.

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1 I am assuming that the probability of the real Jony Ives or Tim Cook reading this post is close to zero.


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