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What does she need? Driving design ideas directly from research participants

Sunday, December 15th, 2013 | Posted by James Lewis

Oh the serendipity of an AC4D event! On Friday, after our school hosted a talk by Gary Chou – an AC4D mentor and professor of entrepreneurial design – I was speaking with classmate Alex Wykoff and Alumnus Eli Robinson. Eli is currently working as a design researcher and was telling Alex and I about a technique for developing design ideas. And it all comes down to what someone needs.

The idea is this: We go directly to the quotes from our research participants. We look at what they are saying and describe what we think that person needs to solve their problem. For example, one of our research participants told us that most teen fathers are involved with the mother during pregnancy and after birth, but a year later most are gone. Taking Eli’s provocation, I asked what do these teen fathers need? Well they need a way to learn emotional maturity! Need statement done :)

Participant quotes with need statements

Lets look at another example of a need statement that produced a design idea. We spoke to a research participant who told us about a teen mother who gave up her children so she could stay with an abusive boyfriend. Our participant remarked that many of the teen moms she serves have an abusive past and this teen in particular had “real attachment issues.” So what does this teen mother need? She needs a way to learn personal attachment – something she probably didn’t learn from her own family as a child.

“This teen mom needs a way to learn personal attachment”

Taking that need statement, we can develop design ideas for our future in school startup building a system, product or service. Sometimes the process might produce generic need statements or design ideas, but I’ve found if you push it and use an iterative process it can produce some good results. For example, if a teen needs to learn how to create personal attachments with people in her life – especially her baby – how can we create something that helps her do that?

Design ideas generated from a needs statement.

One design idea our group came up with was the “Family House.” A program after school that runs through the evening which creates a supportive family environment for teens who are pregnant or parents. By putting mentors in place, and facilitating group activities that are therapeutic, fun and encourage peer support, teens like the one from our needs statement example could learn how to form personal attachments. This would benefit her and her family in the short and long term.

I’ve added the last step of testing design ideas generated in this manner against the insight statements from our group research. In this case, the “Family House” meets both insights around teen pregnancy:

  1. “Taking care of babies forces teen mothers to learn to take care of themselves”
  2. “Having a role model and being responsible leads to resilient teens”

It’s important to look at design ideas from the frame of research insights, because those insights are what really drive our design process and the future startups our team will be working on next quarter.

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