Solving a Problem That Actually Exists

I was reading an article from Techcrunch called ‘NFC (near-field communication) Is Great, But Mobile Payments Solve a Problem That Doesn’t Exist’ and I was reminded of the importance of making sure your product solves an unmet need. Making a product that is “cool” is always helpful, but doesn't mean consumers will click 'buy'.

One of the three lenses for IDEO’s Human Centered Design Toolkit is ‘Desirability’. This lens relates to determining what things people (read: consumers) want. Some people think that advertising and great marketing can create demand, but under the IDEO model, even the most brilliant ad in the world won’t create innate desire. A consumer my desire the idea of something, but as soon as they use the product, the realty will come to the forefront and the product’s sustainability will evaporate. Think of an amazing Super Bowl ad with an all star cast. It’s supported by a great Social Networking engine and it’s even got big name investors backing it. The problem is that it’s a typewriter in 2012. Are you interested?

The Human Centered Design Process first requires designers to hear/look at what’s happening with users before they even consider starting to build something. It’s necessary to get close to your population of reference and observe first, and ask questions later. You should be a fly on the wall and truly understand how people get things done naturally, or hopefully, unnaturally. If a user is dealing with workarounds or is otherwise frustrated with getting a job done, you should view that as a chance to create a product that fills that gap.

The hear phase requires researchers to embed themselves with the population of interest and gain insights they were otherwise lacking. You should be having lots of conversations, hearing interesting stories, and gaining the trust of those you hope to serve. This type of qualitative research is like a river a mile deep and two inches wide – deep thorough understanding, not a broad swath of numbers.

Eventually you’ll connect the dots and determine the themes of what you’ve uncovered. Regarding NFC, maybe you’ve discovered that people would rather have a pocket filled with a smartphone than a wallet. This realization, that people don’t actually want to carry cash and IDs may pave the way for NFC, but simply deciding that the technology exists and I can turn a profit if I make an App won’t deliver sustainable profits. Your challenge? Take a second look at your new product idea and do some serious listening