As a designer I’ve been always a firm believer that there is no good design which is not based on a deep understanding of the people who will be using the thing I am designing. Understanding them and their context enables me as a designer to create something which is meaningful and relevant to my audience.

The confusion | Now there seems to always be confusion between what people want and what people need. Asking a person or a group of people (e.g. with a questionnaire) what they want, or what they think about something you have confronted them with will sure give you some valuable insights you should always take on board in your design project. But this will not tell you anything about their actual needs.

Ice cream at 8:30 am | Last summer I was on holiday with my son in Italy. When on holiday I tend to be, as most parents are, a bit more relaxed about what he eats (candy, ice cream etc) as that’s what holidays are for, right? So one morning after getting out of bed and making breakfast I ask my son what he would like to eat. His response was ice-cream! Mind you this was 8:30 am!!! Now as a responsible parent I did not give him ice cream, but prepared him some cereals with milk. He complained, of course, but I know I did the right thing.

Now back to the topic…

My son is not yet aware of what he NEEDS to grow up in a healthy way. What nutrients he needs that will give him enough fuel for the day. I have to have a deeper understanding about what is good for him in order to look beyond what he says he wants and actually provide him with what he needs to grow up a healthy child.

This is no different when designing anything for people. People often do not know exactly what it is they need.

So how do we surface these needs?

Now that we have cleared up this confusion, what remains is looking into where to start to uncover the needs that people have. Researching cultural, people, societal, economic and technological trends is where to start. Making future projections of what the drivers and motivations will be of people in the future will enable us to see things that people themselves do not yet see.

Use these drivers to inspire your ideas and design and let the creativity flow. Once the ideas materialize, this is when you want to confront people from your audience with your design to understand if what you’ve created resonates with them and to be able to gather the right insights to further tweak and finalize your design.