In 2012, Google announced Google Glass, its futuristic voice- and motion-controlled smart glasses that display information directly in its user’s field of vision when they need it.
With this product, they’d hoped to create the next revolutionary hardware platform. But when the product was released in 2014, it failed miserably. Why? Because nobody had asked for or needed it.
Google had skipped a particularly important step in the product development process. It had neglected to define who its potential users were, how they’d use the product and which problems it would help solve.
So, before you start product discovery, design and prototyping, it’s essential that you have a good understanding of your users, their pain points, their goals—and how your product can help them achieve them.
Otherwise, just like Google Glass, you might just be wasting time and resources creating another product or feature that nobody asked for, and your product will be doomed to fail.
Here are four questions to help you understand and define user needs and consistently create products users will love.
1. Who are your users?
How do you build a product or feature your users will love if you don’t know who your users actually are?
Even if you already have a good understanding of your user base, it’s worth running a quick exercise to determine who your existing users are—and who your potential ones could be.
You should consider:
- Who’s directly using your product?
- Who’s using your product to support others? I.e., case workers, call center staff or charity workers
- Who doesn’t currently use your product but could have a need for it in future?
- Who isn’t currently using your product but could be right now?
While you’re doing this, it’s useful to gather demographic information such as age, geographic location, gender, company information and job titles, so you can get a rough idea of your “typical” user.
But don’t just stop at job titles. Also document the jobs they’re trying to perform that have unmet needs. These jobs might apply to other users or groups of users that you haven’t targeted using job titles.
Once you’ve determined who your current and potential users are, you can then move on to their pain points and problems they’re trying to solve.
2. What problems do users face?
To build a useful product, you need to understand what problems your users are facing—and how they’re currently trying to solve them.
This needs to be based on direct and indirect real-world research and evidence rather than your own assumptions and biases, otherwise you’ll end up addressing the problems you think users are facing, rather than those that they actually are.
You can gather your research in multiple ways, including qualitative surveys, market gap analysis, focus groups and field studies. But one of the best ways to really understand user problems is to speak directly with them.
Set up a series of interviews with both customers and prospects and ask them:
- What are the biggest obstacles, challenges and problems you’re facing?
- How important are these problems to solve?
- How are you currently trying to solve these problems and how successful are you in doing so?
- What’s frustrating or not working about the way you’re currently trying to solve these problems? And what would you like to be able to do better?
- How much time would this product save or how would it reduce errors and rework?
From this, you can analyze what your product needs to help people solve, how they’re currently trying to solve these problems and what gaps you can fill in the market.
3. What are users trying to achieve—and how do they want to achieve it?
After you’ve defined your user problems, you’ll next want to figure out what they want to achieve and how they want to achieve it.
This goes further than simply solving their problems. Instead, it’s what happens next—the outcome of solving that problem and the value it would provide.
For example, a user problem could be that they struggle to fall asleep at night because they live in a noisy environment. What they want to achieve, on the other hand, would be to improve their sleep quality and feel more rested in the morning. This is the value and outcome of solving that problem.
So, ask your existing and potential users:
- What do you need to achieve in X scenario or using Y product?
- How important is it to achieve this, and why?
- What would be your preferred method of achieving this outcome?
- Are there any solutions or features that you wish existed but currently don’t?
- If a solution existed, how much value would it provide?
- What’s working or not working about the way you’re currently trying to achieve this outcome?
- How do you typically determine whether you’ve achieved a specific outcome?
- How do you see your goals changing over time?
You can then start brainstorming ways that your product can help users achieve their goals.
4. What would help users achieve their goals?
Finally, once you’ve gathered real-world data on who your potential customers are, the problems they’re facing and what they’re trying to achieve, you can then start to think about how you can address their needs.
To use our example from earlier, if a user problem is that they struggle to sleep at night because they live in a noisy environment and their goal is to improve sleep quality, then you could look to design a noise-canceling product that helps mask disruptive sounds and create a more peaceful environment for sleep.
From your interviews and research, you should already have data on how your customers would prefer to achieve their goals, as well as everything else you need to know.
Using this information, you can build a valuable product that has a genuine need, fills a gap in the market, solves user problems and helps them achieve their desired outcomes using their preferred methods.
What’s not for users to like? And what’s more, it increases your chances of success tenfold.