Coming up with needs at the right level of specificity is hard. A why-how ladder can help you understand how specific or general to be.
WHY why-how ladder
- As a general rule, asking ‘why’ yields more abstract statements and asking ‘how’ yields specific statements. Often, abstract statements are more meaningful but not as directly actionable, and the opposite is true of more specific statements. This is why you [LINK] ask ‘why?’ often during interviews – in order to get toward more meaningful feelings from users rather than specific likes and dislikes.
- Outside an interview, you can use why-how laddering to flesh out user needs. If your needs are too general (you feel they could apply to anybody) or too specific (you aren’t sure the needs could be generalized to others), why-how laddering helps you find a middle stratum of needs that are both meaningful and actionable.
HOW to why-how ladder
- Start with a user need that feels meaningful to you. This need will be the seed for your why-how ladder.
- Write that need on the board and then ladder up from there by asking ‘why’. Why would your user have this need? For example, you may have come up with a need like “she needs to see a link between a product and the natural process that created it.” Why might this be the case? Maybe she needs to be confident that products won’t harm her health. Maybe she needs to feel she understands a product’s origin. Get these deeper needs by combining your observations and interviews with your intuition. Then take that more abstract need and ask why again, creating another need. At a certain point you will reach a very abstract need, common to just about everyone, such as the ‘need to be healthy’. When your need applies to everyone, it’s time to get more specific again.
- To get more specific, you can ask ‘how’. In this example, you climbed up to the ‘need to understand where a product came from’. Then ask ‘how’ to identify the ‘need to participate in the process of creating a product’. There will also be multiple answers to your ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ – branch out and write those down. Climb up (‘why?’) and down (‘how?’) in branches to flesh out a set of needs for your user. The result (after some editing and refining) is a needs hierarchy that paints a full picture of your user or composite user.