Monday, October 25, 2004

Do people know what they want?

Jon Udell points to a talk by Malcolm Gladwell on the design of the Aeron chair and the "instability of preferences":
    [Gladwell] draws several conclusions. One is that preferences are highly unstable. Another is that, when you ask people to explain what they want, their preferences tend to shift toward the conservative, familiar, and easy to explain.
This is a major problem with customization. When you rely on people telling you want they want, they often don't really know.

And it's even worse than that. If you ask people to tell you what they want, you're throwing up a hurdle. You're requiring work. The vast majority of people won't even bother to tell you. For example, on a website like My Yahoo, most people just use the default, uncustomized My Yahoo page.

In the few cases where they do bother, they'll often provide an incomplete or inaccurate description of their preferences. If you rely solely on this data, you'll get their preferences wrong.

And in the very few cases where they provide a complete and accurate description of their preferences, they'll often fail to maintain it. The preferences will become increasingly stale and inaccurate over time.

Had the Aeron designers listened to what people said their preferences were, they never would have produced this chair. But, at the same time people were saying the Aeron chair was ugly, sales were skyrocketing.

How do you know what people really want? Watch what they do and learn from their behavior.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

haha, this is so true. it's so weird, i was just looking up "people don't know what they want" in google, because i'm actually doing a project on the book Blink for school. i was doing some more research for it. my thesis states that the common people don't know what they want. i just thought it was cool that you referenced malcolm gladwell in here.