Research: Needfinding

The second step in the research process is about discovering your target user’s needs and translating these into customer insights.


Needfinding is the investigative process by which you uncover your customer’s needs. Empathy is the core value in the process of needs discovery. Only through empathy can you take on your customer’s perspective and understand both their expressed and latent needs.

In order to develop a holistic understanding of your customer, use both formal and informal data gathering techniques. A couple include:

  • Focus Groups
  • User Interviews
  • Empathy Maps
  • Questionnaires
  • Role Playing
  • Ethnographies
  • Think Aloud
  • Diaries
  • Interaction Logs

The foremost expert on the topic is the Stanford’s D.School. Stanford’s Design Thinking Methodology is an excellent resource to guide you along the way. Leverage the tools from the bootcamp. Two frameworks I’d recommend include:

Empathy Interviews

Interview for Empathy

The following framework uses storytelling and open discovery to identify the choices and needs that drive your user’s behaviors. The Stanford offers the following guidelines for interviewing for empathy:

  • Ask Why. Ask why they do the things they do, or say the things they say
  • Ask about specific occurrences or instances, rather than usual uses.
  • Encourage stories. they help reveal how user thinks about the world.
  • Look for inconsistencies. Insights {what they say ≠ what they actually do}
  • Listen to nonverbal cues. Body language, emotions.
  • Don’t be afraid of silence. Allow the user to reflect and share deeper thoughts/insights
  • Open-Ended Question. Don’t suggest answers or ask closed questions (Y/N)
  • Keep questions short and concise.
  • Capture. Engage. Record.

Empathy Maps

Empathy maps are great tools for synthesizing your observations into different buckets, based on what your customer: Says, Feels, Thinks, and Does. Collaboratively, you and your team can develop a deep understanding of your customer’s  behaviours and needs and turn these into customer insights. 

A couple questions, provided by SolutionsIQ, to guide your customer discovery you can use are:

  • What is the user thinking & feeling?
  • What are their worries and aspirations?
  • What would the user see while using our product in their environment?
  • What might the user say do while using our product?
  • What are some of the user’s pain points or fears when using our product?
  • What gains might the user experience when using our product?

Empathy Map

I hope the frameworks I’ve shared guide you along the task of researching and developing insights about your customer’s needs. In the next post, I’ll cover how to translate your customer’s needs into a series of desired outcomes and jobs-to-be-done.


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