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Design Thinking: Why understanding latent needs is key to successful products & services

Sameer Naik

The types of problems that interfere with the user’s experience are what designers call pain points. They represent the moments in time when a consumer experiences frustration, difficulty, or uncertainty when using a product, or interacting with a business or service model. One of the key things to understand regarding pain points is that there are two types; Explicit and Latent.

Explicit and Latent Needs

They can be explicit, meaning users are able to describe what’s going wrong, or latent, meaning users cannot describe how their experience might be better. Users will be upfront about explicit pain points. But researchers will need to dig into the experience, observing, listening, and trying it for themselves to get at the latent pain points that lead to transformative innovation.

Solution with Minimal Effort

Think of it this way. If you were to call a customer service number and find yourself transferred to three different people who all asked you the same questions, that pain point would be explicit, or very easy to define. Anyone would beagle to point out the difficulty in that situation. But now, let’s imagine that you were interviewing users about their morning routines many years ago. A user might have described using their phone to look up the weather, so they would know what clothes to pick out for the day. In such a research situation, it’s unlikely that the user would have responded with, “I wish I could just ask someone to tell me the local weather every morning, instead of unlocking my phone” and then being navigated to the aphtha pain point. In this situation, people are often in a rush in the morning, and they need up to date information in ways that minimize demands on their focus and attention. This is a latent pain point that smart speaker, like the Amazon Echo, or Google Home addresses. To arrive at this point, researchers would have to observe the process and try it for themselves.

Understanding of Emotions

Latent pain points often have to do with tapping into user emotions. Remember Steve Jobs delivering the speech while launching iPod? A latent pain points that a user may regret not having along with them when they are in the mood to listen to it. Users value the psychological comfort of knowing they can have almost their entire music library with them on their iPod. Whether they are explicit or latent, pain points must be collected as part of the brainstorming process, using research involving interviews and observation. It is dangerous to brainstorm possible pain points without doing research. You may not know the product and its users enough, or you might know them too well. Either way, the results of user research will often surprise you.

The author is based in Toronto, Canada, and is the strategic advisor to the CIO at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories Ltd, a technology provider for the University of Toronto for the Cannabis Cessation Mobile app, a technology provider for the University of Toronto for the Stop Vaping Campaign, and strategic advisor to the Executive Vice President, Ontario Power Generation.

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