How to design what users want

January 20, 2011 | By More

How to create products that people will buy?

The fundamental truth is human beings have very few needs. Food, clothing, shelter are basic needs. Everything else are degrees of wants.

Water is a need. A low-fat medium latte is a want. The next generation mobile phone is a want. Maintaining relationships is a human need. This can be achieved in many ways – remember hand written letters or greeting cards with envelopes? When you hear MBA-trained marketers talk about user needs, you may be forgiven to think that life will not go on without it.

The issue in successful products is to understand what problem is being solved. And to whom.

Alexander Graham Bell's first telephone

When Alexander Graham Bell first developed the telephone, there was no perceived ‘need’ to use it for people-to-people communications. The problem was listening to music in concert halls many miles away – if only he did not have to leave the comfort of his own living room and still hear the music! Life at that time was such that when people talk, it was at dinner tables.

When the mobile phone was initially marketed, it targeted at salesmen who needed to be told where to go next or the status of the order when standing at the customer’s premises. The Scandinavians pioneered wireless phones because it was expensive for them to wire their mountainous country for phones to their homes. Mobile phones then were the size of lunch boxes! Senior executives did not want them because it was beneath them to be seen with one!

How times have changed. The problem now is different. The speed of business has moved so fast that decision makers need to be in touch with their colleagues and partners wherever they happen to be, or loose their business to their competitors.

Those problems have turned into needs.

So in order to identify needs, you have to first identify what is the problem. Merely focusing on the need is not enough because how the user explains their needs can be masked by many factors, including a likely overdose of wants. It is easier for you to investigate what the problem is. Business schools refer to these as ‘pain’.

People are more ready to pay for solutions that clearly will solve their problems.

Your job, as an entrepreneur, is to make sure you know what problem you are solving, and who it is who has the problem.

Develop your product to address the problem completely and you do not have to waste any additional effort to add features or functions that do not help. There is no additional value to the user for spurious functions. They will not pay more for it. There are exceptions, which we shall discuss at a later posting.

Through the process of identifying the problem you want to solve, you also identify who has the problem. This process helps you identify the user, and by implication, the target market too.

The rest is then is up to you to complete the product as quickly as you can. Team building then becomes critical.

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Category: Developing your product, Marketing your product, What's Next?

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About the Author ()

EngTong, pioneer and innovator. Graduated from Imperial College London with an MBA from Cranfield School of Management. Lived in Scotland, England, California, Beijing and led teams in Italy, France, Japan, Taiwan and Malaysia to do the impossible. Now based in Singapore and believes the future is to blend the sophistication of western management practices with the strength of Asian Values. Trained as a Chartered Engineer. Member of IET, Associate of City and Guilds and a certified SixSigma Champion.

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