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While inventing something world-changing is a worthy goal, you shouldn’t overlook the more humble problems that are likely lurking right under your nose. Think of all the pesky everyday nuisances that might be reduced or eliminated with a clever new tool, trick, or gizmo, thereby saving yourself and others like you time, money, energy, or stress. Or go after the super-specific problems that enthusiasts only discover when they’re deep in the nitty-gritty details of their work. Here are some questions to ask.
WHAT IRRITATES YOU? Or your friends, colleagues, or family members? (Besides each other, of course.) Pay attention to the struggles around you, and you may just spot a trend. How else do you think the salad spinner came into this world?
WHAT TOOL FRUSTRATES YOU? If there’s a device that gives you grief (a seat belt, garden shears, or a smartphone case—anything), how could it work better?
WHERE DO YOU WASTE TIME? We all do it. Is there a device that could help you out of a specific time trap?
WHAT SPACES NEED IMPROVEMENT? We spend our lives in environments made by fallible human beings. What would you do differently if you were redesigning your bathroom, kitchen, workplace, computer, or car?
HOW COULD YOUR FUN BE MORE FUN? Don’t forget your hobbies. Could your roller skates have more ankle support, or the buttons on your video game controller stick less? Believe it or not, these problems matter to a lot of people. So be a hero and fix one.
063 CRAFT YOUR USER STORIES
A user story is exactly what it sounds like: a short narrative written from the perspective of an imagined user that describes how that person works with your invention to achieve a goal. If your product were, say, a camera-equipped flying drone that can automatically follow you around and film your actions, one user story might go something like this:
“As a professional surfer, I want to film myself riding waves so I can go back later, analyze my technique, and improve. I should be able to carry the camera on my board while I’m paddling out, toss it up in the air before I catch a wave, and then be able to easily replay what I just did once I get to shore.”
Writing a user story—or several, in the likely case that your product will serve many needs—helps you articulate your hypotheses about how customers might experience your invention. Resist the urge to put off writing these narratives until after testing: Inventors are usually surprised by what inexperienced users do when they first encounter the prototype, and comparing the testing data with prewritten user stories is a great way to understand where your blind spots are.
As for what’s lurking in those blind spots, be open to pleasant surprises. You may hear uses for your product that you’d never dreamed of—perhaps a wedding photographer who programs the drone to follow the bride around the dance floor, or a farmer who uses it to locate his herd on an expansive ranch. The more uses testers come up with, the greater your potential for market share.