Do you know what your customers need?

15th January 2020
Posted by in Brain Bites: 2 Minute Insights

You may well have heard the famous quote from Henry Ford after he’d invented the revolutionary Model T car:

‘If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have said “a faster horse”’

This quote nicely illustrates that a key part of creating a successful product (or service) is understanding what your customers actually need to achieve their goal(s). Just asking customers what they want your product to do will likely give you a list of suggestions that aren’t commercially or technically viable and/or don’t improve a customer’s experience of the product.

To truly give your customers a great user experience that differentiates you from your competitors, you need to dig deeper: you need to understand what your customers need and create user requirements to inform your design solutions.


User needs can be identified by performing ‘context of use’ research and analysis. This involves conducting research (typically observations and interviews) with your customers in the context in which they will use your product.

Doing so will allow you to learn things like:

  • What your customers are trying to do with your product
  • What problems they have when using it
  • How their environments (physical, social and technical) impact on the usability of your product

Analysis of this information can create a number of useful assets that can inform your design work, e.g.: personas, user group profiles, usage scenarios. Crucially, you will also identify the fundamental resources, information and competencies your customers need in order to achieve their goal(s).

These user needs should be defined so that they are independent of any solution. This then frees you up to be creative with your design work. In Henry Ford’s case, he knew that people needed a faster mode of transport to get from A to B. This could have led him to selling faster horses but instead he saw greater potential in his Model T car.


Once you have identified what your customers need, you’re in a position to create a set of user requirements that, if met by the product you’re designing, will satisfy these needs.

Creating these requirements provides a number of benefits, e.g.:

  • They provide more detail about what your product will enable your customers to do
  • They can be used as acceptance criteria for validating your designs
  • They provide an audit trail that means you can trace design decisions back to the user need(s) they are addressing
  • They provide an important source of information for defining the technical/system requirements of your product

If you follow the process of understanding your customers’ context of use, identifying what their needs are and establishing user requirements to meet those needs, you will stand a much better chance of creating a great experience.

Bunnyfoot now run an advanced certification training course in User Requirements (CPUX-UR) for those wanting to take the next step.


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