I Need You to Need Me
The need statement (“People need… blah blah”) is a cornerstone of user research. Observations, patterns and insights (all our hard work!) distilled into succinct statements neatly pointing to the problem that we are empowered to solve through design. I have long been pondering the use of (and occasional over-reliance on) the need statement (“It’s not an insight if you can’t turn it into a need!”). I have certainly seen the pursuit of the perfect need statement wander into the realm of the absurd at the project level, but they are especially funny when encountered out “in the wild.”
While preparing dinner the other day I noticed this pasta packaging
I’ll bet my pasta can kick your pasta’s ass at meeting needs!
The pasta packaging’s need-shouting put me in mind of this terrific skewering of an exaggerated marketing-department-generated need statement from what is possibly the best review of anything ever, John Phillip’s review of the 2002 Cadillac Escalade EXT for Car and Driver magazine (not found on the Car and Driver site anymore, but full text can be found here):
“Cadillac’s brand manager says, ‘Cadillac research showed that there was a real need for the EXT.’ A real need for a Cadillac pickup? Really? If so, then here are a few things that I really need: An air-conditioned front yard. Iguana-skin patio furniture. Stigmata. Mint-flavored Drano. Gold-plated roof gutters. A 190-hp MerCruiser SaladShooter. A dog with a collapsible tail. An office desk that converts into a Hovercraft. Chrome slacks. A lifetime subscription to Extreme Fidgeting. A third arm. A fourth wife. A smokeless Cuban Robusto. Reusable Kleenex.”
Along those lines but even more ridiculous, here’s another example from a recent post on the blog Sociological Images (CNN Reports on High-Tech Blow-up Doll like it’s an iPad – NSFW!) about a robot sex doll profiled on CNN. The author of the post deconstructs CNN’s interview with the inventor of this product, adding her own interpretation.
“‘There’s a tremendous need for this kind of product,’ said [inventor,] Hines-Translation: Sex dolls are like food stamps and day care; their existence fulfills an important and tremendous need. What? You don’t have one? How do you live!?”
While the pasta claims may be over the top, my noodles did at least meet the need of filling my belly. If we recall Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we know that there is, well, a hierarchy of needs from survival to enlightenment. But the Escalade EXT and the robot doll challenge the fundamental notion of need altogether. Or at least over-dramatize it. Do these products (or 100 calorie Oreo snack packs or scoop-free automatic litter boxes or even iPhones) really exist because we need them? When marketers make such claims do they believe that people really do feel that they need these things? Or that they will if they hear them say it? When we, as researchers, use need statements at the front end of the development process, do we always believe them?
Maybe our introduction of (and insistence on) the need statement at the beginning of the process trickles down, and we’re all convincing each other that people really NEED the things we’re designing. Perhaps we could consider a different word to describe the “need” for objects and experiences such as massive gas-guzzling pick-up trucks and robotic sex dolls. “Want” works for me.
See also: Personas Leaking Outside the Enterprise