Do people know what they want, or should we create products that we want?

Taemin Kim
29 replies
When designing a product, should we heavily lean toward user feedback or create products that we truly believe will work? Henry Ford famously once said, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses". What's your take, makers?


Kristina Zakharchenko
Mostly, people don't know what PRODUCTS or SERVICES they want, but they perfectly know what problems they want to resolve or what additional comfort they want to add to their life.
Olga Petrik
@kristina_zagorulko I totally agree! Sometimes, however, people do not even realize that they have a problem until they're presented with a solution :))
As a designer I want to say "create what you believe in". As a consumer I say "just solve my problem fast and cheap, I don't care what you believe in". Sadly, sometimes the winning products/services have nothing to do with any of the above and the one bigger marketing budget wins. It's all about the balance.
David Kilson
@marekmis I totally agree with, this! It's possible for people to use products for problems that they previously didn't have/realize were problems.
Seb Sidbury
Is there any evidence that Henry Ford ever said that? I can't imagine the people would have said "faster horses". If we asked the question today, would people say "faster cars"? I don't think so. People would have described the problems with horses, e.g. the smell and mess they make in the street, the difficulty/expense in storing and feeding them when not in use, the safety aspects, etc. Just like today, we would talk about congestion, emissions and parking - rather than say we need faster cars. Mr Ford applied his expertise in engineering to create an innovative solution to all of the problems associated with horses in one go. My personal view is we should always ask customers about the challenges they are facing, because nobody understands those challenges better than they do. However, they are not experts in our fields and they won't hand us the solution on a plate. It's our role to apply our expertise to create an innovative solution to customers' problems, that customers would not have been able to think of themselves.
Eugen Esanu
I once heard a quote from Rory Sutherland — Things that make sense don't always work and things that work don't always make sense. Highly recommend to read his book Alchemy, and I think you will get an answer to your question really fast :)
Matej Šarlija
@esanueugen "The opposite of a good idea can also be a good idea." That man is definitely something else.
I usually define innovation as "creating products that you want". I am pro-innovation not pro-creation. Innovative products solve problems you thought never existed. Most products I see today are mostly creative ones. They mostly solve basic customer problems, rely on integration with popular INNOVATIVE products such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Slack and similar. The only issue with developing an innovative solution is the difficulty you'd definitely encounter when pushing it to the market. There is a startup being funded by YC and this startup aims to eradicate the need for email addresses. Now this is an INNOVATIVE solution as it aims to bring a new voice, create a new market and change the way we do a certain activity. Although getting this to market is going to be beyond tough and most users won't be for that.
Dakota L.
From what I've been studying, people don't know WHAT they want. They know what they want SOLVED. People didn't know they wanted can openers until they had to open a can
Eugen Esanu
@fastflowz you know what's funny about that, people don't even know what they want to be solved :) remember that quote with faster horses?
Dakota L.
@esanueugen Yeah, but you can distil the problem from that. The problem is they want to go faster. They probably don't overly care if it's horses or cars.
Eugen Esanu
@fastflowz but do they? A person that wants a faster horse maybe needs more money, and you can find a way to give that person more money, rather than inventing a way on how to move things faster. The problem is that we think they want something "faster" although that's not a horse. Perspective and context is what matters, "faster" is just a way for the brain to translate something. Always dig deeper :P
Daniel Pichel
I believe the famous quote from Henry Ford is just a limited breakdown of what actually happened. It's more about which questions are raised to help people understand the situation they're in and compile a proposal for optimization from it. The story might not have gone viral if the narrator told it like: Q: "What do you need to overcome?" A: "We need to deliver more and heavier stuff quicker." The way people usually think is solution oriented based on experience. They know that horses do the job and it doesn't sound too far-fetched to make them speed up. A mediator who thinks outside the box comes in handy and proposes solutions outside the familiar field. I have an example here: While building Wunderpresentation I interviewed people about their approaches to creating slides for presentations. One common ground was the lack of efficiency and joy when having to design the slides. While other presentation tools focus on making the design process easier and more enjoyable, the approach of Wunderpresentation is the complete absence of any design activity.
Matej Šarlija
Two sides of the same coin.
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Sreekanth PM
You can ask the challenges they face but not what product
Marisa Harrington
I think this could be a combination of both. People might (or might not) know what they want, but not know about how to use a product that services what they need. So in a way, it can be up to us to create something the general public wants/ needs.
Mata Mokwala
People dont know what they want, but they know that there is a problem that needs a solution.
Creating things that are useful to me personally are what usually work out. Because if it solves a problem I have, chances are it solves other peoples problems too.
We are part of the people. The more we are in resonance and groove with everybody, the more we make good products for the people by making them for ourselves.
Brian Hazzard
Focus on their problems rather than the products they want, or that you want to build. Once you have confidence that there is a pervasive problem that a sizeable market is willing to pay to solve, the. Doing offer testing is straightforward to determine if your idea would solve their problem at a price they would pay.
Devanshi Mittal
This reminded me of the Steve Jobs quote - "People don't know what they want until you show it to them". So why not create products that we want and solve a problem that people did not even know existed?
Don Le
There's no right or wrong answer but to me, it's a bit of both. Did anyone know they wanted to get into strangers cars for rides? no. But they definitely did want on-demand ride services. It's really a constant cycle of making assumptions and testing it. Rather than focusing on what people want, I think it's more identifying a problem that people have (the more the better). Find a way to reach people that want that problem solved. Build a solution for that problem. Then focus on what they want :) Just my .02.
Aidan Breen
1. It takes a lot of empathy to understand what people want. 2. It takes a lot of brutal self reflection to understand that what you want may not be what "people" want. 3. If you're starting from scratch, (ie, 0 users on day 1) by definition you can't rely on user feedback. So you have to trust your gut, empathize and do some self reflection. 4. Most importantly: Building is better than thinking.