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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Initial Conversations, Voice of Customer, & Identifying Customer Needs

Rafael Geurrero

Respect for the rights of your customer/client base necessitates that you and your design team are communicating with the customer as much as possible throughout the senior design project. Because engineering design is a service, you should make a consistent effort to “include the customer” to ensure that engineering technique and creativity is meeting customer requirements effectively and appropriately. Taking the extra steps in the senior design project to make contact with the customer and allow them to identify their own needs, wants, and concerns regarding your project honors the customers’ right to communicate their expectations of the design solutions that will serve them.


Who is the customer?

Because not all projects are going to be produced for sale or with entrepreneurial intentions, the “customer” is the individual or people whom your design solution will serve. In the senior design process, the design very well may be meant to serve a literal customer. Regardless, it is important for your team to validate the functionality and appropriateness of your design by defining and interviewing “potential customers”.

Potential customers are people who have interests, needs, or concerns that could be solved by your design. While they may not be direct consumers, having their feedback can be important for determining product specifications.

For example, if designing a smart watch for track runners, potential customers may include:

  • Other athletes: swimmers, archers, tennis players.
  • Various age groups: high school students, adult to middle aged people, the elderly.
  • Various professions: nurses, doctors, electricians, personal trainers.
  • People who use competing products: Apple Watch owners, people that use stopwatches/traditional watches.

Why include the customer in the design process?

When taking steps to communicate and iterate upon your design with the customer, you and your team are both honoring the voices of your customer base and producing a more effective and appropriate product. The process of including the customer in design can be understood as satisfying three dimensions of customer requirements: customer needs, customer wants, and customer concerns. While these dimensions may overlap, each category opens up design to unique and possibly challenging requirements that you and your team must design for.

The most direct and effective way to ascertain these requirements is by scheduling conversations, demos, and interviews about your design ideas with your potential customer or target community. Your team should look to include the customer at every stage of the design process, where the feedback that your team collects will not only improve your design solution but also call to attention ethical considerations from the customer side of the design process.

Below are three design tools that your team can use to organize customer feedback concerning your design project. These tools assess the functional aspects of conceptual designs, and the extent to which each design solution addresses self-identified customer needs, wants, and concerns.

Jun 29, 2018