Understanding user needs…in Africa

Jakob Nielsen, look out. Parker Mitchell has a few things to say about the importance of understanding user needs:

In particular, we will propose that the efforts of people in this room ensure that technology development efforts better incorporate the

  1. functional,
  2. economic and
  3. social/culture

realities of prospective users. In my case the “users” are rural Africans, in your case they may be different, however I think the same focus and principles apply.

1. Understanding the user’s cultural/social context

Let’s take the example of an improved brick press, a technology we were working with with a partner in Zambia.

This technology produces a compressed earth and cement brick that is as good as a cinder block yet as uses 1/16th the cement and so is much cheaper. Our partners were trying to determine why more units aren’t selling, as there are innumerable walls for which this compresses earth brick would be perfect. It turns out that users and engineers have a different definition of wall. To an engineer it is a structure preventing people getting from A to B – in which case the new, cheaper brick is much better. To Zambians, it turns out that a wall is a status symbol; having a concrete wall brings more prestige than any other type of wall. As a result, homeowners aren’t interested in this brick maker.

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