“Every company competes on the basis of continual innovation. And to be commercially successful, new product and service ideas must, of course, meet a real—or perceived—customer need. Hence the managerial mantras: “Get close to the customer” and “Listen to the voice of the customer.”

The problem is, customers’ ability to guide the development of new products and services is limited by their experience and their ability to imagine and describe possible innovations.

How can companies identify needs that customers themselves may not recognize? How can designers develop ways to meet those needs, if even in the course of extensive market research, customers never mention their desires because they assume those desires can’t be fulfilled?

A set of techniques we call empathic design can help resolve those dilemmas. At its foundation is observation- watching consumers use products or services.

But unlike in focus groups, usability laboratories, and other contexts of traditional market research, such observation is conducted in the customer’s own environment- in the course of normal, everyday routines.

In such a context, researchers can gain access to a host of information that is not accessible through other observation-oriented research methods.”

(Spark innovation through empathic design, Dorothy Leonard and Jeffrey F. Rayport, Harvard Business Review, November – December 1997).

These are sound principles, permanently relevant, and insufficiently practised.