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Human needs are universal; product solutions are unique
When I see a feature doing well, it’s tempting to feel an instinctive desire to copy and paste that feature onto whatever I’m working on. After all, it’s working for another app!
Or if a set of values is working for one team, I think, “We should try that in my team too!”
But people often intentionally hire different products for different jobs, and different values are needed for different teams.
On a recent road trip, I noticed every roadside restaurant gave us sporks — a spoon with the functionality of a fork grafted on. How convenient! But when I’m sitting down for a comfortable meal at home, I still prefer eating with a separate fork and spoon — the spork just isn’t right for my family dinners.
When I see a successful feature in another product, I try to focus first on the underlying human needs that it’s solving. After all, that feature is exposing a need that people have, and showing me one way that they’re able to meet that need. How should I address those same human needs through the specific lens of my product?
Some of our core needs are universal: to connect with each other, stay informed, feel a sense of worth, protect our families.
Some are specific to who we are, where we live, what kind of work we do.
I try to discipline myself to:
Understand what a successful feature is doing
Go deep on the human need it’s solving, and other ways that human need is expressed and solved
Only then think about how that need could be solved by my app
A clear sequence of understanding the human need before thinking about addressing it within a product has helped me resist the temptation to transplant a feature that’s working elsewhere directly onto my app.
It also helps me mentally outline the constraints for the products I work on. Placing constraints on a product is one of the hardest parts of building it. And of course we need to frequently reassess those constraints; user needs change as the world changes.
But recognizing and being intentional about those constraints helps define the product — it helps the user understand what the product is for, and makes sure that a product solves the specific job people are hiring it for. And it ensures that when we build something new, we’re focusing on solving a human need in a way that feels at home for the people using the product.
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