User Need Statements in Design Thinking

A great solution to the wrong problem will always fail in design thinking or any product development process. It’s important to define the problem you want to solve before we spend resources, ideating, designing, even developing. This is where user needs statements, a pillar in the defined stage of design thinking.

Come in now before I even get into the definition, it’s worth mentioning that there are so many terms that mean somewhat the same thing. You’ll hear them called how might we statements, problem statements, point of view, statements, POV statements. It doesn’t matter what term you use, only that you consistently use one across your team and organization. So what is a user need statement? A user needs statement as an actionable problem. Statement used to summarize who a particular user is that users need and why it’s important. It defines what you want to solve before you move on to generating all those different ideas. These benefits are twofold. One, you condense your perspective on the problem to you. Provide a metric for success that you can use throughout the design thinking process. Most needs statements or problem statements are made up of three components a user, a need and their goal. These are then combined into somewhat of an equation. A user needs a way to do something to accomplish a goal. So let’s break down that first part user. The user should be a specific persona, a real end user segment you’ve done research on. It’s helpful to include a short tagline that helps remind everyone who this user is, especially if that needs statement, is going to be used by a large team or stakeholders who are removed from research. And then we have the need. The need should be a real user need, stay away from features, interface components, specific technology. And then we have the insight. This is the goal. This is the meat. It is the result of meeting that user need. It should be rooted in real empathy.

Look beyond the obvious. What will your solution allow the user to accomplish? The fatal flaw that I see so many teams make is that the purpose of a user needs statement should be capturing what we want to achieve with our design, not the house. They should help us advance our presumptive solutions from discrete, specific features like buttons towards those deeper, empathetic insights. I think of it this way. User need statement should help us frame our users needs as verbs access information to learn instead of nouns, buttons drop downs. When we do this, we’re able to generate far superior ideas because we don’t limit ourselves to those predetermined solutions which are often just bandaids for larger user needs.

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