Design Project 1: Needfinding

Studio: 4/21 (Tue), slides by 5pm
Final Write-up: 11:59pm on 4/22 (Wed)
7% toward your total grade

What do we do?

Remember the design thinking workshop in the second class? It's important that you gain empathy and understand needs of your target users by observing and talking to them. In this assignment, you will observe and interview three potential target users. Please make sure you meet with people who are experiencing the problem you are tackling. Also, include at least one extreme user, who is experiencing non-average constraints and situations. Preparing for an interview is a good idea. Note: Due to the COVID-19 situation, it could be challenging and inappropriate to make direct, physical observations. Therefore, we encourage you to employ an indirect method for needfinding that does not involve physical contact, such as email, phone call, messenger app, video chat, etc. Please note that there won't be any grading penalty due to your choice of the method. But specify what method you used in your report.

For each participant, do the following: (1) Observe them dealing with the experience you're trying to redesign in a real environment. Ask the participant to perform the task as realistically as possible, so that you have a good understanding of the actual practice. (2) Record: Carefully take notes, sketch, and capture photos about what you observe. Do not record video, as the participant might feel uncomfortable and perform unnaturally. (3) Interview: Spend 10-20 minutes interviewing the participant about what you observed. Ask "why" questions, focus on "feelings", and seek "stories". This checklist might help.

After completing your observations, your team needs to reflect on what you learned from the participants, and identify needs and insights. Needs are what your user is trying to accomplish, expressed as verbs. They indicate your user's activities and desires. Insights are discoveries that you might use in creating solutions. They are opportunities, not features or solutions. There are no bad ideas in this stage: go for volume, and generate at least 10 needs and 10 insights. Using an empathy map might help, although it's not required.

Your Report

  • Experience you are planning to redesign (one sentence)
  • Observations & Interviews:
    • A narrative of the people you observed and interviewed. For each narrative, focus on interesting moments and breakdowns: when the user is trying to do something but fails, takes long to do, or doesn't know how to do. Use at least one photo or sketch for each person to highlight the specific points.
    • Explain in what aspect at least one of these users is an extreme user.
    • Note: Each member should observe and interview at least one person. Having multiple members to join an interview session, of course, is recommended. Next to each interviewee, write down members of your team who were there for the interview.
    • Note: Do not use real names of the users, but describe who they were in detail.
    • Note: A few bullet points or sentences are enough for each participant. Long reports often contain unimportant points and ultimately lead to low scores.
  • Needs: List at least 10 needs. Do not add detailed explanations for each need.
  • Insights: List at least 10 insights. Do not add detailed explanations for each insight.
  • Studio Reflections: Summarize the feedback from the studio session, and mention how you addressed it or will address it later in the process.

Example Slides


  • Experience (10%)
    • Problem-driven not solution-driven?
    • Stretch in the target user population?
  • Observations & Interviews (30%)
    • Explain how each user is related to the Experience.
    • An extreme user included?
    • At least three people?
    • Demonstration of interesting moments?
    • Clearly written and informative
    • Photos or sketches?
  • Needs (20%)
    • 10+ needs submitted?
    • Distinct, relevant needs?
    • Non-trivial?
    • Problem-driven not solution-driven?
  • Insights (20%)
    • 10+ insights submitted?
    • Distinct, relevant insights?
    • Non-trivial?
    • Opportunity-driven not solution-driven?
  • Studio Reflections (10%)
    • Is feedback well summarized?
    • Is feedback addressed, or is the plan for addressing feedback concrete?
  • Studio Presentation (10%)
    • Preparation and organization?
    • Articulation and clear delivery?
    • Effective use of visual aids?
    • Time management?


Studio Presentation: In studio, your team will present your main findings for 7 minutes, with 5 minutes for Q&A and feedback. You need to prepare a Google Slides presentation, by adding your slides to the link your TA will send you. The slides should be ready by 5pm on Tuesday. Every team member needs to participate in the presentation. Write down the questions and feedback you receive during your presentation, and reflect on them in your report.

Team Report: One report per team. Your report should be submitted as a zip file. The main report should be written in Markdown (please use the .md extension). Name the file with your team name, and submit it by visiting this link. You can submit multiple times until the deadline, and we'll use the most recent version for grading.