Stanford University

Assignment 2: Needfinding

Part I


Learners have many needs on their path to mastering new material. Some of the needs are obvious—like having lectures and exercises to learn from—but many of the needs are more fundamental and less obvious. Additionally, the instructors have needs and challenges to best serve their learners.

You have been in many educational environments before, so you have some experience to draw from. However, for this needfinding exercise, your task is to identify a population of learners and instructors that is outside your expertise or major. For example:

  • The Equestrian team learning to ride new horses
  • Theater class learning a new play
  • Grad students in the MBA program learning to negotiate
  • Journalists learning about new technologies
  • Medical students learning to care for patients
  • Improv class
  • Product design class
  • People learning a foreign language

Your goal is pick an educational environment and observe, interpret and pose “how might we” statements to express needs of the people in these environments. For now, you don’t need to worry about creating an interactive explanation—you goal is purely about understanding and identifying the needs of learners and instructors.


We will assign you to a team of two or three from your studio. Information on team assignments will come from Canvas and Piazza.

Write a needfinding plan

Decide on an initial needfinding plan. Focus on where you want to do your needfinding and who you will observe. Produce a short list of your stakeholders: for example, if you were doing needfinding for elder care, potential stakeholders would include the elderly being cared for, family members, and health care professionals.

You should start with observation and sketching. For this assignment, rely on your own sketches rather than photographs to capture the environment. Annotate the sketches with observations and notes. We have found that sketching leads to more careful observations of the environment. Remember that the sketches do not need to be perfect. They only need to capture the important aspects of the environment. Wait until after you have spent time observing, sketching and interpreting the environment to interview subjects.

Your needfinding plan needs to describe:

  • How you will find the stakeholders?
  • Where you will observe and interview them?
  • What do you hope to learn?
The needfinding plan should be at least two solid paragraphs.

Next, put together a discussion guide of questions and topics to cover when you go out on your interviews. The discussion guide should record verbatim your introduction, the questions you plan to ask, what activities (if any) you are planning on doing with the participants, and (if any) survey questions you will be distributing over the web. The verbatim part is key because if you ask leading questions, the needfinding will be useless. The Asking Questions section in Patnaik should help.

Before going out, post your needfinding plan to your studio staff on Piazza for feedback.


Execute on your needfinding plan and gather your observations. Capture a mix of sketches, text, and annotations. Only capture photo and video if absolutely necessary (for example, if lots of quick actions are taking place). Record audio (or video) from your interviews, with permission. This should take at least a couple of hours of dedicated observation, capturing, and sketching.

The staff will be giving you feedback on your interview technique as part of this milestone. To do so, we need you to transcribe a ~3 minute clip of one of your interviews. Pick a 3-minute slice where you would like help digging deeper, and transcribe it out into a document. If you prefer to experience a quick paid option instead of transcribing it yourself, it would cost about $5 and require a 24-hour turnaround with Rev.

Generate three people profiles to capture different stakeholders. (See a template here that you can copy and edit for your submission.) People profiles ensure that you have enough depth on a perspective from your conversations to tell a story. They help your results become more emotionally resonant.


It's time to synthesize your needfinding results. Grab a whiteboard, and start by putting all your observations onto Post-It notes. Start grouping them, turning your raw observations into interpretations (recall lecture for details), and then regrouping as necessary. Aim to produce needs. Remember, needs are verbs (activities or desires that your user could use some help). They are not nouns (solutions). Don't restrict your focus to just what people say and do, reflect also on what they think and feel. Aim for around ten needs or more, as well as a selection of your top three needs.

Finally, translate your needs into "How Might We...?" questions. Aim for at least ten How Might We questions.

Submit and Present

On Canvas

Do not submit a raw dump of materials; rather, organize a subset of your most salient, insightful or inspiring observations and interpretations. Make sure to back up each interpretation and need with an observation, a quote or a picture.

Pull everything together into your submission for P2.I on Canvas. This includes:

  • A text file with your team members' names and SUNet IDs.
  • A document detailing your topic of interest, your needfinding plan, and your discussion guide.
  • Your selected observations with explanations
  • Your selected interpretations with explanations
  • Your How Might We questions
  • Any studio-specific requirements

In Studio

Your team will have four minutes to present a summary of what you did, as well as your most salient observations, interpretations, and How Might We questions. For this milestone, you may present these informally or using slides.

Grading rubric

Each milestone is worth five points. You will receive five points for completing the assignment satisfactorily, submitting it, and your whole team bringing your deliverables to class for feedback.