Book: What Customers Want

As innovators and UX practitioners we have talked about understanding user needs as the basis of our work. The difficulty is in figuring out the right method needed to extract those user needs. What Customers Want by Anthony W. Ulwick shows us a very effective way to discover user needs.

There are different ways of gathering user needs from one-on-one interviews to group interviews, etc. There are also a great many ways the interview questions can be expressed and conversations directed. I chose this as my first recommendation because it has been a great influence in how I work. The concept behind it (outcome-driven innovation) is geared towards bringing opportunities into focus.




Within the GetElemental™ Innovation Design Model you will find six discipline areas. From left to right, they are:

  • Task analysis
  • Circumstance analysis
  • Gamification analysis
  • Information architecture
  • Interaction design
  • Usability analysis

This book recommendation fits within the task analysis discipline column and under the user interviews activity.

On Using This Method

In What Customers Want Anthony Ulwick argues that gathering requirements by asking people what they want results in failed products and services. We all remember Ford’s quote, “If I had asked people what they wanted they would have said faster horses.” Ulwick argues that successful products start with asking people what “jobs they are trying to carry out, what outcomes they are trying to achieve, and what constraints prevent them from adopting or using a new product.”

I’ve been using this method for a number of years and it has served me well. Participants love this method because they get into the details of their life in a way that let’s them get things of their chest. It’s like a therapy session. I can’t get into the details of the method in this post but I’ll illustrate how I use it. First we’ll start with a list of jobs gathered from our interviews. Then we’ll see what kind of innovation spaces we might be able to play in.

Let’s say hypothetically that user research found that customers are looking to accomplish a particular set of jobs. Let’s make our hypothetical customers parent’s with school-age children. These are the jobs we found parents are looking to carry out:

  1. Prepare my child’s daily snack.
  2. Prepare my child’s daily lunch.
  3. Help my child with homework.
  4. Make sure my child has clean clothes for school.

Food Innovation Space

In the food innovation space we have possible opportunities in snacks and lunches for school kids. This is probably how Kraft decided on Lunchables. If you’re a food company you’ll have some pretty big competition. Here’s what the list would look like in the food space.

  • Prepare my child’s daily snack.
  • Prepare my child’s daily lunch.
  • Help my child with homework.
  • Make sure my child has clean clothes for school.

Education Innovation Space

In the education space the opportunity would be specific to homework. There are tons of after-school education centers so you’d have competition there too. Here’s what the list would look like in the education space.

  • Prepare my child’s daily snack.
  • Prepare my child’s daily lunch.
  • Help my child with homework.
  • Make sure my child has clean clothes for school.

In terms of outcomes. What if we learned that the reason snack and lunch are difficult is because there’s very little time in the day. The outcome would look like this:

  • Decrease the time it takes to prepare my child’s lunch daily.

That changes the opportunity to much more detailed level. Add the constraints and that changes the opportunity to add even more detail.

It’s important to say that when working in start-up mode you may not actually get to follow through on all of the suggested research in the book. But at least get the jobs, outcomes, and constraints. I’ve worked on projects where I only interview five people and that gives me great insight. It’s really all you need in start-up mode.

Please send me a note @getelementalux and share the books that have helped you with task analysis.