Too often websites and applications are produced without a clear, objective understanding of the “real needs” of their end-users. These needs are generally very different from the perceived needs that are thought to be accurate by particular stakeholders in a project.
It’s important to take the time to ensure that these real needs are clearly found and understood by all involved. Without adequate discussions, observation, and validation of ideas with stakeholders and users, it is pretty much impossible to know what people really need from something.
Solutions are dictated by needs, goals, and expectations. If these are not fully understood prior to or during the development of a solution, how can the solution be successful?
Not properly accounting for needs is costly
By providing a solution that doesn’t meet people’s needs, there is a cost in frustrating users, loss of productivity and sales, and poor customer experience. Not to mention the frustration of stakeholders involved in providing the solution.
These types of issues can lead to further investment into a website or application, and can even lead to the abandonment of projects.
Whilst all of this sounds very alarming, these situations can be avoided.
The best way to understand real needs is to engage users and stakeholders constantly
There are many methods that can be used to understand the needs of people for a website or application. Methods range from formal interviews, informal discussions, observing users in their ‘natural habitat’, to putting sketches and mock-up interfaces in front of them.
A recent example of this is a project that involved providing a new eCommerce platform to a client. We needed to better understand how they fulfilled an order that came from their website. With the client physically going through the process with us in their warehouse, we noticed a number of needs that were missed in previous conversations. The most notable was the way in which they were collating and producing mailing labels. Without observing this process first hand, we wouldn’t have been able to pick up on some key details that make or break the user’s experience. The changes we made resulted in a much more efficient solution.
Different methods can achieve different levels of understanding. No matter what method is used, the most important consideration is to constantly be engaging users and stakeholders. Constantly question them, gauge reactions, understand motives, observe actions, empathise with feelings and validate decisions as they arise.
This should not merely be limited to certain ‘phases’ of a project but should be maintained throughout the entire design and development process. As a solution evolves from ideas on sticky notes, to sketches on paper to a fully workable prototype, users and stakeholders should be engaged and used as a valuable source to inform decisions.
People’s needs can change over the course of a project, and their own perceptions of their needs can change. When people start interacting with tangible objects, they can start to better understand what they are getting and can use it as a catalyst to further refine their needs. This should not be resisted but embraced. The more this is allowed to happen, the better the result will be.
Clearly separate needs from solutions
The natural inclination of us all is to get into the sculpting of a solution as quickly as possible, but this is rarely the right approach. Time needs to be taken to clearly identify real needs, and to not get distracted by potential solutions until these needs are adequately understood.
“Real needs” are central to all decisions, end to end
Always make an effort to understand “real needs” that people have, and never lose sight of these throughout the development process. These are your guiding lights to solution success!