Only Three Questions

I’ve been saying recently that all research in new product development is about answering one of three basic questions.

  1. Is there an opportunity in the marketplace?
  2. Do people value the thing I’m putting in the marketplace in response to that opportunity?
  3. Does my solution work? Can people use it?

Traditional design research has a long history of answering Question 1 and Question 3. The design community has good tools and techniques for these questions: we use ethnographic research to uncover needs and opportunities; we use usability testing to see if people can use our product.

For years, my usability clients have asked me to answer Question 2, the question that really matters to entrepreneurs: is there a business here?¬†And for years, I’ve explained patiently that we couldn’t answer that question with design research. For Question 2, I explained, you need to turn to market research. And I always hated this answer–feeling like it was a cop-out, a hole in my toolkit.

It wasn’t until I came across the Lean Startup community that I found the tools to answer Question 2. Here were entrepreneurs who were using lightweight experiments designed specifically¬†to answer the question, will people pay for this?¬†That they adopted a user-centric attitude towards understanding and assessing value made it easy to mistake what they were doing as UX research in a new package rather than something new they were bringing to the party.

Why does all of this matter? Because increasingly, we’re working in a cross-functional environment, working across discipline borders. Having access to the right tool to answer the right question will make us better researchers, better designers, better entrepreneurs, and more valuable collaborators.

In future posts (and this is really a note to myself), I’ll break down some methods for answering each of the questions above.


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