article (Wed Jan 22 2014)

UX and Maslow’s Pyramid

  • #uxdesign
  • #designthinking

I always had a fascination with pyramids thanks to all the hollywood buzz about it. I believe that it was probably in third grade when I first learnt about the ecological pyramid. Then after a few years came a much more interesting pyramid - Maslow’s pyramid.

As I look at the world around me and observe the state of businesses, it has dawned upon me that the fundamentals of Maslow’s pyramid are applicable even to businesses - be it small or large.

UX and Maslow's Pyramid

A lot of this understanding has come through my continuous study of user experience and the way I see it being adopted by different businesses.

There is something about the field of human computer interaction and user experience that forces me to draw mappings between a business or a product and the concept of Maslow’s pyramid.

Think about it. Among all the industries that you see around yourself, how many industries are taking the time and effort for investing in user experience? Your answer might differ based upon the place that you live in, but even now, in many parts of the world, there are several business for whom the daily activity of running a business in itself is so overwhelming that user experience is never given a priority. This does not mean that those businesses don’t care. What it means is that most of those businesses are working really hard to keep their businesses running and to deliver value to their customers. However, the value that they deliver is not in terms of the user experience. Its in the operations. They make sure that when you order something, you get it. They manufacture, they deliver. And there is nothing wrong about it. You get what you want, and they get what they want.

There is a common phrase that is repeated often in the startup community which goes by as something like this - “Ideas are cheap. Its the execution that matters”.

If the above is true, then the businesses that continuously try to optimize their operations are the ones who have been doing it right all along. We need to stop criticizing the internet business of the last as not delivering a proper user experience, because they were functioning on a very different level - the level of execution. User Experience, in my opinion is a level that either lies above the level of execution or merges with it. To put it in context, if you don’t have a business that executes well, no matter how good a user experience you provide, you are not going to have a happy ending.

When looking at the world with this perspective, I see that that just like Maslow’s pyramid of needs, every business has a pyramid of needs.

The core

This represents the fundamental reason why a product exists. In user experience terms this is what we call as answering the question ‘what are you building’. This is clearly the first level in what I would like to call - a product’s pyramid of needs.

The Technology

The second need for a business to exist is the ability to define what technology will be required to build a product. Does the required technology exist? If it does not exist, can it be created within a given timeframe? For many businesses today, technology is not a major concern. I personally feel that we have reached a time in history where we are not limited by technology to solve most of the problems that our customers are facing.

The Engineering

This is one of the most critical needs for any business. Even if the technology exists, if you don’t have the capacity to engineer a solution using what is readily available, you’re gonna fall flat. This is what ‘execution’ means in its real sense.

The User Experience

The fourth need and the uppermost layer is the User Experience. This is the ‘cream’ of what you deliver. Delivering the user experience is what makes a business stand out. The user experience is what visionaries see when they daydream. The lower layers are nothing but a means to an end.

However, just like Maslow’s pyramid, one has to understand that unless the needs in the lower layers in the pyramid are fulfilled, it is near impossible to realize the vision. All the hype around the term ‘user experience’ will remain just a buzzword, until you can actually solve a problem for your users, have an understanding of what is the best way to solve it in today’s time and age and actually be able to deliver a solution that makes sense.

If you truly want to be on top of the pyramid, none of them can be ignored.