Mary, my friend, was actively involved in politics. One day, I revealed my wish for her to become a senator, but she shocked me with her response.
“Do you know if what I wanted was to be a councillor?” she asked.
I was dumbfounded when Mary said this, given that the political position I had wished for her is one of the best political positions in Nigeria.
Mary wanted something that would be convenient for her, not something that I wanted her to be. So, the statement credited to Henry Ford – “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses” – may not be true, given human preferences and choice.
Then again, on January 13th 2014, the then President Goodluck Jonathan (who had the power to make or mar the 2015 presidential election should he re-contest) said at a National Working Committee meeting, “Any ambition I have at any time is not worth the blood of Nigerians.” When he finally contested in the presidential election on March 31st, 2015, Jonathan conceded to a former military general, against the wish of many who wanted his continuity in power.
No community think the same way. Some like cold food, while others like it hot. In the modern times where people are on the move, some like journeying via train, others like journeying by cars, aircraft and so on. On the social media aspect, some prefer one social media to the other. What Ford palpably meant was that as a businessman, he did not want consumers’ feedback or have their preferences. He wanted an authoritarian company where consumers should not ask questions for what they wanted, but should use what Ford had produced, whether they liked it or not. Ford invariably killed the spirit of innovation on the altar of self-centeredness.
Customers always understand their problems and by virtue of having a right to this, should express this to their vendor. It was a lack of insight that Henry did not understand how to make use of scale of preference or user research as it applies to Economics. These insights inform the views of designers before they produce. For instance, Journalists have 5Ws and a H that form their reportage which is What, Where, When, Who, Why and How. This is also applicable to designers, but they only use Why and How.
While early-stage research in production centres on problem/opportunity legroom, solution space is secondary to designers. Therefore, customer feedback is needed in order to understand what they need from the product, which is designed to provide a solution to their needs.
In the cause of gathering data from customers for a product, analytical and synthesising mechanisms are put in place for the purpose of generating insights. One designer said, “In short, we don’t ask people what they want; we try to identify what they need… If people tell you they want faster horses, they are telling you something useful. Namely, that they have a desire to go faster. It is the desired outcome (‘going faster’) that you should focus on, not the perceived solution (‘horses’).” Mintjes, M (December 23, 2016). Don’t give me that ‘faster horses’ quote.
It is expected of producers to ask customers what they want. A friend told me that his daughter was commenting on quality in novel software her firm was developing. She said that customers do not know what they want because they don’t know what is possible. However, it is expected of her to innovate from time to time, in order to give her customers what they never asked for, to make their job easier.