Education Technology

HCI: Need Finding

It is the process of observing people to discover their needs, goals, and values. Although the course if about “Human Computer Interaction”, the process of need finding is relevant to developing new products or even new businesses.

A good starting point for any new product is to clearly identify an existing problem or need. That’s because finding a big problem and need often yields important untapped opportunities. Observing people also helps build empathy and think from their point of view. So, how do we observe people and identify their needs?

Participant Observation

Observe the users and their behavior in context (performing the activity). This is most useful when you want to see users in their element and learn about their experience.

While observing, we seek answers to these questions:

  1. What do people do now?
  2. What values and goals do people have?
  3. How are these particular activities embedded in a larger context, or the big picture?
  4. Similarities and differences across people
  5. …and other types of context, like time of day

While observing people, pay particular attention to any hacks or workarounds. These could be a gold mine for new ideas. There are several methods for observe users:

Deep hanging out

Spend lots of time in the vicinity of the subjects, observing them go about their activities and also the context of these activities.


A great way to observe the users, is be one of them. Learn and perform their activities, so you get first hand experience. Observe all of the practices. Validate what you are observing with those observed as you go along.

Other observation methods

  • Get a guided ‘tour’ from an insider
  • Observe and photograph anonymously. Especially effective for public activities.
  • Go through existing data like security camera footage


In addition to gaining insights from observing people, it’s also valuable to interview them — ask them, and later brainstorm, about their experiences directly.

The first step in setting up an interview is deciding who to interview.

Participant selection

- Get a diverse set of stakeholders - Use incentives and motivation - If exact representatives are not available, go with close-enough.

Questions: Good and Bad

Don’t ask:

  • hypothetical scenarios
  • how often they do something. You’d get biased answers.
  • leading questions
  • ask Yes/No questions
  • rating on absolute scale


  • Ask pen ended questions
  • Ask concrete question. Like, how many times you did activity last week.
  • Listen. Give some time to the participants to tell the real story.

Types of Interviews?

  • Lead / extreme user interviews
  • Domain expert interviews
  • Surveys
  • History interview intended to understand a sequence of events
  • Process mapping to understand the complete experience
  • 5-why interview for driving to implicit causes based on asking why multiple times
  • Cultural context interview - An unfocused tool for understanding
  • Intercepts - A brief question and answer session in the field

The most important thing about need finding in design thinking is that we look without presupposing what we are looking for. We trust that our ability to define the problem will emerge during the need finding process.

In addition to material discussed in the, I have taken inputs from the need finding crib sheet