This was originally a Q&A thread from User Experience Stack Exchange. This post only highlights the question and a summary of the best answer.


Benny Skogberg asked:
One of the most successful products ever produced is the iPhone. It’s loved for its excellent User Experience worldwide. It came from an idea by the late Steve Jobs who is among other things famous for not asking the customer what they want. In 1985 he said: “We built [the Mac] for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren’t going to go out and do market research.”

In addition, in 1997 he said, “a lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

At the same time User Experience experts say you need to test ideas, mockups, prototypes and do A/B-testing, open and closed Card Sorting and the like on the intended audience. Question is do we need to test, or don’t we?

Evil Closet Monkey answered:

These are very popular quotes from Steve Jobs and are frequently pointed to as reasons why we shouldn’t test. If Steve did it, so can we! The trouble is that most people miss several key points.

Not everyone is Apple

The first is that they are not Apple. A Forbes article, Five Dangerous Lessons to Learn from Steve Jobs, lists these quotes as #1. Chunka Mui, the author of the article, calls it out:

I actually think Jobs was right but only in the very narrow category to which he aspired: where his products, such as the Mac, iPod, iPhone and iPad, either redefined or created product categories. That’s not the domain in which most businesses play. Remember also that Jobs backed up his unique insights with an enormously expensive creative process populated by world-class designers. Without Jobs’ talents and the unparalleled creative team and processes that he built around himself, you won’t get away with doing no market research and not listening to your customers.

Market Research ≠ User Testing

Another is to confuse statements about market research with user testing. Apple does do user testing! In 2010, an iPhone 4 was found in a bar. Thing was, the iPhone 4 didn’t exist yet – as far as the general populace was aware! It certainly wasn’t left there on purpose, but instead likely by an employee who was testing it.

Want versus Need

People/users know what they “want”. They “want” a lot stuff. They often times don’t know what they“need”! Steve Jobs understood this. In another article, The Steve Jobs Market Research Quote Should Rest in Peace, two different types of market research are discussed. It is clear that Apple does conduct market research, but they ask the right questions — they look at what people need out of a product, not what they want out of it.

(Note: I’m not implying people “need” an iPhone, but what they “need” out of a product is very different then what they “want” out of it)

Steve Jobs/Apple were not failproof

A last point, people always point to the iPod, the iPhone and the iMac as examples of why these quotes from Steve Jobs show “user testing doesn’t matter.” For some reason, people forget how often Apple (and Steve Jobs) has failed – The Newton, The “Hockey Puck”, The Power Cube, The Bandai Pippin and a whole lot more.

So back to the question: do we need to test, or don’t we?

Yes. Yes we do… and we can use Apple as an example of why we should! For two main reasons:

  1. Because Apple does test their products
  2. Because sometimes when you introduce something so new it flies, but more often it fails.

Steve/Apple have failed plenty of times, some past and some more current-ish (G4 Cube). So to put any quotes by Steve as evidence to, or not to, do something because of the recent iPod/iTunes/iPhone success is ill-advised. They absolutely got it right, this time.

Read the full Q&A on UX Stack Exchange

Photo Credit: tsevis via Compfight cc

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