A streetcar named Desire

21 February 2023 Martin Cheetham

Marshall amps are arguably the biggest name in sound amplification, used by some of the greatest musicians that have ever lived. And it all started when Jim Marshall, who owned a music shop in the sixties, had Jimi Hendrix complaining to him that he couldn’t get the sound he was wanting out of the existing amps at the time. So Jim and his son got to work and the rest, as they say, is history.

The point is that Jim listened. He listened to the problem, understood what the need was, and then created something to fulfill it. He didn’t start out thinking “Hmmm… I wonder what can my company afford to make that will be profitable for me?” – he started by finding out what people needed.

Another little company you may have heard of was founded in 1997 by Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph. The two American entrepreneurs were frustrated by late fees and the challenges around returning rental videos. They had an idea to rent DVDs by mail. They tested the concept by mailing themselves a DVD… and Netflix was born.

Again, they started with a need. This time their own. But they realised that others must be feeling the same frustration and figured out a way to relieve that pain.

Most of the incredible stories of self-made businesses that became billion-dollar enterprises all started with an individual having a need that the market (at the time) couldn’t fulfil. The trick is to find out what that need is first. And only then trying to find an answer to it.

“Research is to see what everyone else has seen and to think what nobody else has thought.” – Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

So many businesses fall into the trap of designing for feasibility or viability, where they should be starting with desirability. Not the desirability of the business, but the desirability of the intended user. We can push a product or service as much we want, and pour millions into clever marketing campaigns, but ultimately if people don’t want or need it, with a great user experience to boot, it will fail.

And to understand desire? We first need to empathize by engaging in research. Speaking to the actual people that we are intending to serve.

There are various types of research:

  1. Ethnographic research: This type of research involves observing and interviewing people in their natural environment to gain insights into their behavior, values, and needs.
  2. User research: User research focuses on understanding the needs, wants, and pain points of the target audience. It can involve surveys, interviews, usability testing, and other methods.
  3. Market research: Market research involves studying the market trends, competition, and other external factors that may impact the success of the product or service.
  4. Trend research: Trend research helps identify emerging trends that may impact the target audience, such as changes in technology, social norms, or cultural values.
  5. Competitive research: Competitive research involves analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of competing products or services to identify opportunities for differentiation and innovation.
  6. Data analysis: Data analysis involves using quantitative data to understand patterns and trends that may inform the design process.

Overall, these research methods are used in combination to gather insights and generate empathy for the target audience, identify opportunities for innovation, and validate design decisions.

Only by truly understanding people, can we hope to design products, services and experiences that will have an incredible impact on them.