Many UX Strategists repeatedly emphasize that the goal of their work (i.e. of any user-centered design process) is to develop products that meet the needs of their users and that the degree to which this goal is achieved is crucial to the success or failure of the product.

This is the maxim that we UX professionals use every day in our sales conversations, isn’t it?

It is true that needs, wishes and expectations are the main motivations that drive customers – ultimately every person. As far as it is clear. However, needs, wishes and expectations are not the same and are often lumped together or confused. In the fields of user research and UX, this often leads to a certain confusion about the actual goals of the user-centric design process. A differentiation therefore seems essential.

Therefore, I will ask a few questions: How do we know when the needs of a user are fulfilled and how do we know how far these needs are fulfilled? How can we determine or measure the degree of satisfaction of needs?

Hmmh … to measure the degree of satisfaction of needs, first of all it is necessary to know these needs exactly – and even that is not quite trivial, we know that from our daily work. That is why we have the user research. And how does it proceed? Usually by conducting interviews.

But, surveys don’t really help here, seriously. First, most people are not fully aware of their wants and needs. And secondly, even if we knew them, it would still not be easy to measure the degree of satisfaction, because where is the maximum value of satisfaction, if it exists at all? Furthermore, all measuring and testing methods are based on subjectively perceived conditions, the objective comparability of which could cause us to ponder for a long time. And how do you measure emotional states? It is obvious that an evidence-based investigation is not very easy.

In market and user research, «satisfaction» is usually measured, usually by interviewing users or customers. The nature of a survey, apart from its inherent linguistic subjectivity, is the aforementioned circumstance that not all respondents are fully aware of their emotional states or are able or willing to give clear information about them. In addition, there is the survey or test atmosphere, which can also have an influence on the subjectively perceived satisfaction. It is well known that during a tasting session, the environment plays an extraordinary role in the evaluation of the test item.

Results from customer or test subject satisfaction surveys can therefore only be used to a very limited amount to answer the question of whether and to what extent customer needs are actually satisfied by a product.

Another problem is that satisfaction is largely determined by personal expectations. And this does not necessarily have to correspond to the actual needs. Nor does it always have to be constant. The expectation attitude can lie for various reasons under it or over the actual need. It is very much determined by the value proposition and the status quo in the surrounding area. In other words, what the consumer is expected to see in the industry or in his personal environment.



What has been a highlighting characteristic of a product or service for a while can quickly become the standard. Daimler-Benz, for example, was able to demonstrate a real unique selling point with its airbag for a couple of years, but today it is a common standard in the automotive industry. This safety feature no longer arouses enthusiasm, it is now expected by consumers. The expectations of a consumer can therefore change or adjust.

To stay with the example of the airbag: The customer need in this case is the desire for the highest possible level of safety when driving a car, the satisfaction of which we can certainly never exactly measure, nor will it ever be fully satisfied. The expectations, on the other hand, can already be determined quite well according to target group and industry environment and are therefore certain to be met.

Therefore, we usually only determine the expectations of our users or customers and the subjectively perceived satisfaction, to what extent their own expectations have been met or exceeded – but never to what extent the underlying need has actually been satisfied. However, we can state that a customer feels that one car is safer than the other, i.e. his need for safety is more satisfied.

And yet: Does a driver feel safer than a driver 30 years ago who did not even know an airbag? I doubt it. Driving a car is still dangerous, and the feeling of safety or dangerousness is determined by factors other than existing safety features. Here, too, the respective expectations as well as experience and knowledge about car accidents and their frequency are decisive. A need like safety is subjectively felt and can easily be influenced.

A need is a condition or an experience of a deficiency or its avoidance. Thus, our need to eat results from the fact that we are hungry. 

A wish, on the other hand, is something that we would like to have - for whatever rational or irrational reason. A child, for example, wants a chocolate bar when he or she is hungry, even though there are certainly better options for satisfying the need.

However, as a rule, wishes result from needs. But not every fulfilled wish automatically leads to the satisfaction of a need. For example, we always become hungry again. Most people also wish not to die. However, we know that this wish can not be fulfilled at least permanently.

And an expectation is finally a wish, which are tailored to a realistic measure, e.g. to become old, to remain healthy and to look young as long as possible.

Thus, for example, the decision to buy a car is not about the actual satisfaction of the need for “safety” (which is not even possible), but rather about the extent to which one car is perceived to be safer than another, i.e. the extent to which a driver “feels” safe and not the extent to which he actually “is” safe.

Noisy vacuum cleaners are still the preferred choice, as most consumers believe that quiet vacuum cleaners have less suction power than loud ones. Does a company really satisfy customer needs by developing a powerful but quiet vacuum cleaner? Certainly, but it does not satisfy their expectations.

Perhaps it will, if you market this vacuum cleaner accordingly. This example shows that UX is not just about product development, or stopping there, but also about how to explain, market and promote products.

The deciding element for the subjectively perceived «User Experience» is therefore whether users feel safer, happier or younger when using the application and not whether they actually become so through the application.

This means that the “subjectively perceived satisfaction” plays a much greater role in the purchase decision than the actual effectiveness or satisfaction of needs.

This does not mean that customer satisfaction is not also influenced by the effectiveness or usefulness of the product. But usually not by the fact that the effect or the use aims in principle at an actual satisfaction of need, more likely at an given value proposition. But even absolutely useless and ineffective products are marketed successfully, sometimes over decades.

In order for ineffectiveness to actually damage the product, it must be proven and known by all parties (e.g. in the case of hair restorers). Nevertheless, there are millions of people who cannot be disabused, who buy caffeine shampoos and other scientifically proven ineffective products, under the motto: hope dies last.

The subjectively perceived satisfaction plays a greater role in the purchase decision than the actual usefulness or effectiveness of a product and determines the success or failure of a product development and its marketing. It is not important to what extent a product satisfies the actual needs of its users.

Many UX professionals are partly aware of this fact, but we still pretend that user experience is something completely different from advertising. Never persuasive, but always focused on the actual user needs.

Meanwhile I see this differently. UX Professionals influence the reality of users in all areas through their work, sometimes fundamentally and also persuasively.

We should stop denying that we UX professionals have nothing to do with influencing human behavior for the benefit of paying clients. Because that is exactly what we do.

As far as I am concerned, that may be okay in the many areas, but there are areas where the potentially profound effects of the user experience we create should make us think about the ethical implications.

For example, is it okay for you as a designer to say that the UX you create “lies” a little bit? Is the creation of a supposed sales-promoting state for a handful of people more important to you than a more comprehensive need orientation – for example also with respect to non-users, who are always affected by the production and disposal of products?

Of course, the cola from the plastic bottle or the pressed meat from the intensive animal husbandry can taste quite delicious and through the strategically correct linking of the “touch points”, provide the consumer with a pleasant “customer journey”, and this with a certain attitude to life of carelessness and satisfaction. But don’t tell me that you are helping to satisfy the actual needs of these consumers. You are helping your client to maximize his profit at the cost of the consumers. That’s exactly our job and nothing more, isn’t it?


Regrettably, a successful user experience pays more attention to the expectations and wishes of users than to their actual needs.