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Stage 2: Formulating a Needs Statement from Information Gathering

You have done a lot of work so far, in gathering information for your problem statement. How do you translate this into user needs?
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A needs statement is needed for the following reasons:

Note: Please click the picture below to download the note.

Trulli

In the context of information flow for the ideation stage, it is useful to visualise this process through the following diagram:

Trulli

The needs statement stage is a critical bridge translates the user voice into technical language. This is the role of the design engineer at this stage.

So, how may we formulate the needs statement? The table below may be a useful guide for you. Continuing the example of the electric rice cooker, let us first regard the “raw data” from the questions we discussed in the previous section. The customers are asked about a specific type/brand/model of rice cooker, and came up with the following “raw” responses:

Question Example of customer statement Instructor’s notes to class
1. What do you typically use the rice cooker for?
  • Jasmine rice
  • Basmati rice
  • Japanese rice
  • Brown rice
  • Mixed Rice
  • Porridge
  • Cakes
It is useful to maybe give a multiple choice option for this question, for example, to cook white rice/porridge/mixed rice/cakes etc, so that you can present this data in terms of a graph. So, you could discover information such as 100% use it to cook white rice, whilst only 5% use it for cooking porridge and 2% use it for baking cakes
2. How frequently do you use the rice cooker?
  • Twice a day. I have a family of five and during the pandemic everyone is home. I home cook most of my meals during the week
  • I am single and I live alone. I usually cook my rice once every two days
  • I cook rice once or twice a week. I prefer noodles and bread
Similar to the above, you could ask the questions in terms of multiple choice eg once a day/twice a day/once every two days/once a week etc, so you could then obtain some data on the percentages of the different categories
3. How much rice do you use every time you cook? I cook two cups every time, but even then it is too much for me as I live alone. However, it is difficult to cook just one cup as I can’t get the water measurement right Similar to the above, you could ask the questions in terms of multiple choice eg 2/3/4/5+ cups, so you could then obtain some data on the percentages of the different categories
4. How many are in your household? We are a family of 8 (including 5 teenagers), so I find I keep having to cook rice on repeat Similar to the above, you could ask the questions in terms of multiple choice eg 2/3/4/5+ persons, so you could then obtain some data on the percentages of the different categories
5. How long does the rice keep in the rice cooker before spoiling? My rice doesn’t last long before it gets spoiled Similar to the above, you could ask the questions in terms of multiple choice eg 6/9/12/15+ hours persons, so you could then obtain some data on the percentages of the different categories
6. What are the things that you like about your current rice cooker?
  • It has a heavy pot which ensures my rice is fluffy
  • Its timer setting is reliable and easy to use
  • I am able to use it to cook different kinds of Asian rice dishes eg porridge, chicken rice etc.
7. What are the things that you do not like about your current rice cooker?
  • Baking cakes was not a success
  • Difficult to clean
  • The latch for upper lid keeps coming off
  • The condensation from the lid falls back into the rice quite directly and spoils the rice
  • It doesn’t cook brown rice so well
8. Suggested improvements
  • I wish it was easier to clean
  • I wish the setting for mixed rice could allow the rice to cook faster
  • I wish the rice would be more evenly cooked for higher volumes of rice
  • I wish my rice cooker did not take up too much space

From the “raw” responses above, we may then begin to construct corresponding needs statements. You may consider framing them according to the guidelines shown below:

Guideline Customer statement Needs statement – right
What not How “Why don’t you make the rice cooker easier to clean?” All washable parts of the rice cooker are easily detachable for cleaning
Specificity My rice spoils too quickly Condensation does not fall back into the rice
Positive not negative The latch of the lid keeps coming off The latch of the lid is robust (instead of saying the latch of the lid must not come off)
Attribute of the product I wish I could cook mixed rice faster The cooker is able to cook mixed rice recipes as fast as it takes to cook normal white rice
Avoid “must” and “should” I’d like to be able to cook large volumes of rice successfully. Most of the time if I use more than six pots the rice comes out half cooked after the cooking cycle is completed The rice cooker is able to cook large volumes of rice successfully ( ie refrain from using ‘should’ in the above sentence)

Once we have done this, we are on the way to then identify customer requirements, in the next step.

© Universiti Malaya
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Ideation: The First Step in Engineering Design

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