People Don’t Know Themselves (or Getting Beyond Market Research)

Ekta Ohri is the Head of Project Operations at CKS.

In the design field, there has been a long, slow change in our understanding of what makes for good design.

In the late 90’s, there was a shared understanding in the design industry that good design is all about creativity. The best designs were considered to be designs that displayed a great deal of creativity from its designer. But in the early 2000’s, Apple products like the iPod gained popularity in the Indian market. They were smart, sleek products that seemed to understand exactly how you used a device, and how to make using it simple and intuitive.

In an attempt to mimic this ease of use, many design practitioners in India shifted their focus to “user-centered design” – design that tried to understand the needs of the user. Frequently, this design process involved extensive market research, often based around doing one-on-one interviews with prospective customers about what they want and need.

But true user-centered design relies on something beyond simple market research. The work we do at CKS relies a great deal on observing people as they use a product or service. We observe people, interview them, shadow them at home, at work and in the world at large. These are research techniques that are more traditionally associated with ethnography or anthropology than with design, but they are invaluable to our work.

The reason that this is necessary is simple: people don’t know themselves all that well. If you ask someone a series of questions about how they use a product or service, they will try their best to answer your questions. But when you observe the way someone actually acts in their everyday life, you can observe them doing things in a way that they may not even be conscious of.

Truly good design works at this level, engaging people in their conscious and subconscious decisions. It steers them, whether they know it or not, towards a more efficient action or a smarter choice.

I believe that design has the potential to transform peoples’ lives for the better. But doing so requires that we understand the people that we are designing for. Maybe, even more than they know themselves.

-Ekta Ohri

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