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Design Hierarchy of NeedsOctober 26, 2015 / Treena Bjarnason
The hierarchy of needs for design is based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
The hierarchy of needs principle states that a design must meet the lower-level needs before the higher-end needs can begin to be addressed. This means that things like ‘functionality’ must come before ‘creativity’.
This makes sense right? Of course, it does. Still, a lot of designers can forget this in favor of making something beautiful, and eccentric before considering the lower-level needs.
Good designs will follow the hierarchy, and those designs that are sub-par don’t respect the order. It’s a lot like trying to build a house. You can’t build a house without a good foundation and you build up from there. I doubt there are any circumstances where you put the roof on before you have the floors and walls.
Here are the 5 levels for the Design Hierarchy of Needs from most important and required to least:
Any design must function before anything else. For example, a digital camera needs to be able to capture an image and store it for retrieval. If it can’t perform these basic things, then the design has failed.
When a design has met the functional needs, it can now move up the ladder to the next level which is reliability. The design needs to provide consistent and stable results. If your digital camera only captures images sometimes or occasionally fails to save the image, then the design has not satisfied the reliability needs.
Usability needs are determined by how easy something is to use, or how forgiving it is if used incorrectly. With our digital camera example: How easy is it to turn on and off, how accessible is the button to trigger the shutter when looking through the viewfinder, etc? For forgiveness, should accidentally pressing the wrong button to delete all your images? Simple mistakes should not have catastrophic results.
Near the top of the list of needs is ‘proficiency’. Proficiency needs refer to allowing the user to improve their workflow or empowers them to do more things more easily. With the digital camera, allowing the person to bracket exposures, or having it auto-detect faces and focus without manual adjustment may improve the photographer’s proficiency. Proficiency needs are considered ‘nice-to-haves’ but are not required to complete the essential task of the device.
Only once all of the preceding needs are met can the design reach the creative needs stage. Now the design can become truly innovative, and often the user may be able to use the design in new ways not even intended by its original purposes. This is where our camera could potentially gain a cult-like following and create a sense of wonder with the users.
There are criticisms of Maslow’s Hierarchy of course, but in general, the steps and levels are logical and should be followed in a design project. Design things good.
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