How to skip user research like Apple and still deliver great products

Steve Jobs’ statement that Apple does not do market research has stirred a lot of opinions since he was interviewed by Forbes in 2008:

“We do no market research. We don’t hire consultants. The only consultants I’ve ever hired in my 10 years is one firm to analyze Gateway’s retail strategy so I would not make some of the same mistakes they made [when launching Apple's retail stores]. But we never hire consultants, per se. We just want to make great products.”

A common argument is that since Apple does not need market research and is able to create highly , do we really need it in our company as well?

Apple can follow such an approach because the company is in a unique situation:

“We did iTunes because we all love music. We made what we thought was the best jukebox in iTunes. Then we all wanted to carry our whole music libraries around with us. The team worked really hard. And the reason that they worked so hard is because we all wanted one. You know? I mean, the first few hundred customers were us.

It’s not about pop culture, and it’s not about fooling people, and it’s not about convincing people that they want something they don’t. We figure out what we want. And I think we’re pretty good at having the right discipline to think through whether a lot of other people are going to want it, too. That’s what we get paid to do.”

The requirements for skipping user research

I think it is possible to skip user research in two situations:

  1. You are designing the product for yourself.
  2. You spend so much time with your customers that you know exactly what they want and need.

If these requirements are not given, the gap between an organization’s understanding of customer needs and the actual customer needs is probably large. If this gap is small then the conclusion should be that as long as you are designing products and services for yourself the outcomes should demanded by customers.

I call this gap the “CEO – Customer Gap”.

The CEO – Customer Gap

In order to understand this gap better it would be insightful to measure the size of this gap. By defining two measuring points we might better understand how big the distance between an organization and it’s customers is.

Focusing on the CEO as a representative gives a clear measuring point and puts the CEO as the key representative of an organization at the center of attention.

The CEO – Customer Gap is something that should be explored, measured and minimized to increase success of new products and services.

A company where employees needs are congruent with customer needs and employees intuitively create the products and services because they want them to be like that for themselves will be more successful than a business built around market research studies, customer experience management or the latest innovation management fad.