Knowing your end-user: an anthropological primer

What do product designers need to know about their end-user? This post provides a broad-stroke overview of the kinds of questions you should answer before you design a new product, particularly new technology products.

The “value orientation model” of anthropology is a great starting point for product design. Your product has to fit within a person’s existing value system. Think about the automobile for example. Is your end-user an SUV type or a Smart Car type? Here’s how to narrow the focus.

  1. Human nature: Describe what the typical end-user believes about human nature (e.g., humans are generally good; humans are generally bad; humans are neither good nor bad). Hint: SUV drivers may think humans are generally bad, so we need to protect ourselves with BIG CARS.
  2. Time sense: Describe the typical end-user’s relationship to time (e.g., focus on the future; focus on the now; focus on the past). Smart Car drivers may think that the future matters, so they buy smaller more environmentally friendly cars.
  3. Person-Nature relationship: Describe the typical end-user’s orientation to nature (e.g., nature is to be dominated; nature is to be revered; nature is to be ignored). SUV drivers think nature should rule them. Just kidding.
  4. Social relations: Describe the typical end-user’s relationship to others (e.g., individualistic or “dog eat dog”; collective or: “we’re all in this together”). SUV drivers are definitely dog-eat-dog. Hence the BIG CAR.
  5. Space: Describe the typical end-user’s relationship to space (e.g., people control space; people live in harmony with space; space controls people). Smart Car drivers may believe that people should live in harmony with space, so they buy a smaller car, to park in urban settings, but also a car so they can conquer space and drive to the country for the weekend.

An additional set of questions around technology devices is also critical for technology designers:

  1. What is the typical end-user’s primary interactive device? Surprise! It may be a TV remote control!
  2. What other interactive devices does the typical end-user have?
  3. What is the primary frustration the typical end-user has with his or her current primary device?

Do you know the answers to these questions? If not, how will you know whether you’re designin for an SUV driver or a Smart Car driver? You can find out the basics to these questions through a few simple steps:

  1. Review any secondary value-based research, including omnibus surveys.
  2. Complete quick and dirty observations of your primary end-users.
  3. Survey a larger group of your primary end-users.
  4. Summarize and segment these findings to create value-based design personas
  5. Design a fabulous product!

3 responses to “Knowing your end-user: an anthropological primer

  1. Pingback: Blizej Natury » Blog Archive » Knowing your end-user: an anthropological primer

  2. Pingback: Pages tagged "knowing"

  3. Hello, Sam, Dr Ladner,
    I instinctively appreciate the value of anthropology for (in my case, medical device) technology design. (Greatly enjoyed Lionel Tiger’s The Pursuit of Pleasure.)
    Would like to get connected with you on LinkedIn, but you do not provide your email in your profile, so I cannot invite you to connect. Maybe you will invite me? (Profile URL is below.)
    BTW, how I “discovered” you was through an automatically generated “possibly related post” on my very first blog post way back (which I only now noticed). I much enjoyed – because I resonate with – your “The Cascading Effects of Poor Technology Design”.
    Again, I hope you might facilitate a connection on LinkedIn and, once bioZhena Corp. gets funded, I would like to discuss some collaborative ideas – or even before, while chasing the money…
    Best wishes,
    Vaclav Kirsner, PhD
    Founder CEO, bioZhena Corporation

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