That’s not what Steve Jobs meant
October 10, 2011 2 Comments
“The consumer doesn’t know what they want” is a paraphrase of a Steve Jobs quote heard often lately with the sad news of his death. What a terrible legacy this quote leaves a man who lived by usability design. Unfortunately it has been translated to imply that Jobs ignored the consumer and just forged ahead with design unconnected to market research. Not true. Dangerously not true.
As with so much these days, you need to go deeper than the sound bite to get to the truth. Jobs focused on consumer need. It was an unrealized need, but a need nonetheless. His relentless connection to the product usability is marketing research.
Malcom Gladwell in a TED feature does a fabulous job of getting to the core of what Steve Jobs was really saying. Check it out… Gladwell is talking spaghetti sauce, but it’s the same marketing research perspective voiced by Steve Jobs: In essence; consumers don’t understand needs that they can’t conceive. His brilliance was in really understanding what consumer’s couldn’t voice, because they had never experienced it.
Consider Jobs saying that “… handwriting was probably the slowest input method ever invented…”(WSJ). It is a clear articulation of intuition that would not even occur to a consumer in any kind of market research because they wouldn’t be able to conceive of an all touch screen environment (think before iPhone). It is in the doing that the clarity and brilliance of this thought occurs. Consider the design usability evident in Apple lack of instructions. In Fast Company’s Cliff Kuangs’ words; “The assumption is that you’ll be able to tear open the box and immediately start playing with your new toy.”
That’s usability. The kind that comes from skillful research of your consumers’ unrealized needs. Let’s honor the memory of Steve Jobs by understanding the core of his statement and keep the focus on the consumer; unrealized need or not!