2 Approaches to Design and 4 Rules of Understanding Humans

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Written by Brian Ling (Design Sojourn)
Apr 16, 2013


I get this all the time.

Whenever we talk about Design Thinking’s user-centered approach to finding opportunities and understanding your customer better, someone always reminds me that one of the worlds most successful company (in my humble opinion), Apple, does not do market or user research.

Similarly, Scott Anthony writes:

It feels like a classic battle — the scientific approach of a company (Procter & Gamble when run by former CEO A.G. Lafley) that launches 80 market research studies a day versus the intuitive touch of the iconic innovator of our time.

But it’s a false comparison. Both approaches rest on the belief that you need to understand your customers better than they know themselves so you can predict what they want without having to ask them to articulate what they want.

Here is my usual answer to this: basically, what we are saying here is that there are 2 approaches to design.

The first one takes a user-centered approach to design. This is where Design Thinkers or Designers spend time in the field observing and researching humans for potential insights that can inspire and innovate. This sort of approach is ideal for organizations with large diverse portfolios and multiple types of customers. It is also a great activity to use on mature market services and products.

The second approach is what I like to call the customer proxy design approach. This is when there is someone who lives and breathes the product or service in such a totality that it becomes a lifestyle. He or she is then able to take it to the next level in an almost craft like manner all for the good of the consumer. This sort of approach lands really well for businesses developing a focused product range, or even a small niche player in a competitive market.

At the end of the day, it is all about that intuition or insights derived from knowing your customers better then they know themselves. But how you come up with these insight can be from either one of the two approaches. Personally, I prefer a combination of the two approaches simply because of my 4 golden rules of understanding humans:

1) People don’t know, what they don’t know. (To get it right, you’ll need to repeat this a few times while pausing deliberately at the comma!)

2) People don’t do what they say, or say what they do.

3) People know what they dislike, but often can’t articulate what they like.

4) People often can’t distinguish between their wants from needs, as well as why they need it in the first place.

So my 2 by 4 (2×4) approach to design led innovation basically revolves around using thought leadership and intuition for insights, and then iterating and validating with data.

What’s your approach?

Via: HBR

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denise lee yohn
Apr 21, 13 – 7:19 am

love the thinking here, brian — i would add to your list of “golden rules of understanding humans” the following insight i’ve discovered in my experiences: what people end up liking about a product they’ve bought is not always what prompted them to buy it in the first place. this is why we have to be very careful about how we ask customers for input into marketing/advertising approaches — they can’t un-know what they know. — denise lee yohn

Brian Ling (Design Sojourn)
Apr 25, 13 – 11:46 am

@Denise: thanks for stopping by and it is so nice to hear from you. I hope you are well. Yes indeed, 2 really good points for better understanding humans. Thanks for sharing!

May 17, 13 – 7:39 pm

Well put Brian. The four golden rules are too true! After reading this I now realise the importance of both approaches to be used together for a successful design innovation.

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