When doing product user research, a lot of designers make the mistake of assuming the problem to be the first thing their users articulate. Henry Ford is purported to have said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses” (in fact, that is the problem that Ford addressed. He just did it with new technology).peel the onion to discover unmet user needs

Ford created value for users by providing a product that allowed them to get from one place to another faster. But that is just one aspect of the opportunity that Ford took advantage of. The success of the automobile came not just because it was a faster mode of transportation. It was also fun. Exhilarating. It was a new experience. It felt good to have the wind in your face. It was a status symbol. And many other things. All of which, if studied closely, could have provided Ford with insights into additional opportunities.

A strong technique for discovering opportunities that aren’t readily apparent (unmet user needs) is to drill down into the problem by continually asking “why?” Why do people want to get from one place to another faster? Perhaps they want to be able to spend more time with their families. Why do they want to spend more time with their families? Perhaps it fulfills their need to be nurturing. Why do they need to feel nurturing? Perhaps because it reinforces their self-image as parent and spouse, etc. Although I am merely speculating about these reasons, probing in this manner during actual research will allow you to uncover the motivations that are at your subject group’s foundation. The process of uncovering basic needs will suggest additional ideas, opportunities and solutions.

Peel the onion.