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How to use fundamental human needs to create a better design?

Fulfilling each step of the hierarchy of needs requires applying logic to create a product that meets the functional priorities of its purpose. Aside from that, it's also about investigating how a product may work for a user outside of its core purpose.

Alex Dovhyi
Alex Dovhyi
6 min read
How to use fundamental human needs to create a better design?

You're probably familiar with Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Today we will uncover it can be used to improve product design. This model has helped me create digital products quickly.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is a motivational theory in psychology created by U.S. psychologist Abraham Maslow.

This theory was published in the academic journal Psychological Review in 1943 and is usually depicted using a five-tier model showing human needs in a pyramid diagram.

The most fundamental demands are those at the base of the pyramid. You must complete the current level to move on to the next one. From bottom to top, the demands are physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.

According to the theory, people are driven to take care of their basic requirements before moving on to more complex ones.

For instance, a person who is starving will not prioritize finding a love relationship (belonging). Instead, they are forced through evolution to put their needs for survival first (physiological).

Product design and Maslow's theory

Maslow's theory has been modified and used in numerous domains over time. These include business, marketing, and design.

The "Design Hierarchy of Needs" was a translation of Maslow's theory by Steven Bradley in 2010. Similar to the original idea, the fundamental design requirements must be satisfied before moving on to the next stage.

The five tiers of Bradley's theory are:

  1. Functionality
  2. Reliability
  3. Usability
  4. Proficiency
  5. Creativity

Product design hierarchy of needs

Steven Bradley's Design Hierarchy of Needs offers a helpful and applicable set of guidelines for developing new products and assessing the design of already existing ones.

As you design a new product, whether it be software or a tool for the financial sector, moving through the process is as simple as asking the questions that each level implies.

  1. Functionality: Does it work?
  2. Reliability: Does it work when I need it to?
  3. Usability: Can I figure out how to make it work?
  4. Proficiency: Can it show me how to make it work better?
  5. Creativity: How else can this work for me?

Here, it's essential to address these questions to clients and pay close attention to their responses.

Let's break down each level and explore each in detail.

Five levels in product design's hierarchy of needs

Fulfilling each step of the hierarchy of needs requires applying logic to create a product that meets the functional priorities of its purpose. Aside from that, it's also about investigating how a product may work for a user outside of its core purpose.


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