Matthew Garvin

UX Research, Design, Strategy

The Needfinders: a Reflection on Patnaik and Becker’s seminal paper

Patnaik and Becker seem to give us a torch with which to light our path into that immersive, murky realm of qualitative data collecting and assessment. Among the several important takeaways I saw was that in doing social research, it’s easy to just gather data for the sake of gathering data, and you’ll be able to tell a great story about the user, but it won’t be an effective story to design around unless you uncover a clearly defined user need so that the whole team (or even if you’re flying solo) can begin to visualize the problem that you intend to design a solution for.

Though the image below is worded a little differently, I think this model should be emphasized regarding the Saffer chapter on refinement. Refinement is the convergent areas. And this process can continue for the entire duration of the project of iterating and refining. 

Since interaction design is still figuring itself out, we don’t want to necessarily be bound to say, making every interaction on our website as fast as possible according to Fitts’s Law, or every menu perfectly optimized according to Hick’s Law. Our job will be to effectively manage the trade-offs, but also be able to explain where and why we made these trade-offs.

Similar to how needfinding will build a foundation with which to effectively produce a user need to rally around, having a clear understanding of how to balance the Laws and Principles discussed in Saffer, and when to throw them out completely in favor of something different are crucial skills we will need in order to even begin to effectively manage some of the other constraints like time and money.

Featured Photo by Alexis Fauvet on Unsplash


Dev Patnaik and Robert Becker, Needfinding: The Why and How of Uncovering People’s Needs. In Design Management Journal (1999).

“Chapter 7: Refinement” in Saffer, Dan (2010). Designing for interaction: Creating innovative applications and devices (2nd ed.). Berkeley, CA: New Riders. 

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