A needs analysis is a crucial step to understanding where users have problems performing a task, and which problems are most aggravating
By Wendy Eichenbaum
You’re at the grocery store walking to your car. It’s drizzling. Your hands are full of groceries. You can’t reach your key or press the button on the trunk that syncs with your key. We’ve all experienced this pain point.
But what is the primary pain point for you? Is it that you have to put the groceries down, often where there is little room and cars are circling for a space? Or is it that the ground is wet and dirty, so now you’ll get the car’s interior dirty? The answer to that question will affect your design need.
Ford addressed the first issue in their Escape SUV by developing a system to open the tailgate with a foot. As long as you had the Escape’s Bluetooth key on you, then you could flick your foot under the rear bumper to open the tailgate.
However, that might not keep the trunk area dry and clean. So to address that issue, a manufacturer might install stain resistant plastic mats that could be removed easily for cleaning. Two pain points, two different solutions.
You need to understand the root of your customers’ pain before you design a solution. You can find this root by conducting a needs analysis with your target audience.
In a needs analysis, you ask your users a series of questions about their experiences with your product. First ask, “What are all of the tasks you perform with product name?” These are actions, like opening the trunk. Don’t ask for a list of features, such as a trunk, tailgate, and key.
Then guide the users through the following questions for each task. “Walk me through the steps you perform to complete X task.”
For example: “I’m walking to my car. I’ve got 3 bags in each hand, I’m pushing my son in his stroller, and my purse is over my shoulder. When I get to the car, I first have to lock the stroller wheels with my foot. Then I lift my left hand and put it the purse, but I can’t find the keys, and the plastic bags are starting to rip. So I put them all down, and fish to the bottom of my purse for the keys. And now the bottom of the bags are dirty and a can rolled out.”
“What works well in this task?” “Where do you encounter problems as you perform the task?” Probe your users to describe the successes and failures. “I only have to press a button on my key, but I can’t easily get to my key since it’s at the bottom of my purse.”
Finally, at the end of the task, review the hurdles the users mentioned, and ask, “If you could have it your way, in what order should we fix these issues?” This way, the users tell you which fixes are most important to them.
Let’s say our user indicated that her primary problem was accessing her key. We don’t ask her how to fix the problem. She might say that she needs to get the key out before she leaves the store. We design the solution, such as a foot-activated gate.
You’ll need to go through this exercise with each of your personas. While you’ll notice some overlap, each persona will have unique needs and pains.
What if you don’t have a product on the market? The needs analysis still works well. Instead of asking about a specific product, ask potential customers how they complete a task that your product will address. Then you can identify the hurdles, and develop a feature set to address the gaps.
A needs analysis is a crucial step to understanding where users have problems performing a task, and which problems are most aggravating. Then you can align your design ideas and development schedule to address the needs most critical to your audience.
About the Author
Wendy Eichenbaum has been a UX professional since the early-1990’s. She began her career as a technical writer. She then earned a Master of Arts in Professional Writing at Carnegie Mellon University, studying both writing and UI design. Over the years, she has worked across verticals, from start-ups to multi-national firms, in many areas of UX including research & strategy, Information Architecture, usability testing, and focus groups. She started her own UX consulting firm in 2008, Ucentric Design. And she is an adjunct professor at Cal State University, Fullerton. There she teaches a class that she created, User-Centered Design for Web and Mobile Interfaces.