Design for dreams not needs

Everybody has a dream. Everybody has the need to create a legacy. Once you help people move past the fears and anxieties that bury those dreams, their imagination is stirred. They begin to ask themselves, “What would I want for my children, for my society, for my country?” and that hidden seed of a dream is uncovered.
~Sonia Manchanda, Dream:In

Design for dreams not needs. 

Sonia Manchanda’s memorable phrase immediately captured my imagination when I came across it in Bruce Nussbaum’s book Creative Intelligence.

Dreams not needs became a seed of possibility for a new way of framing how I think about needs.

For twenty years I’ve been a designer of products and experiences.

The problem with designing for needs

What’s wrong with designing for needs? Perhaps nothing. But then again, perhaps everything. It depends on how you see who you’re designing for.

Are you seeing them as full of needs? Needy? Does your seeing stop too near the surface, seeing only their visible selves?

Or are you seeing them as full of capabilities and gifts? Heroes? Does your seeing go as deep as possible, seeing their invisible selves, their true selves?

needy vs hero with gifts

It’s really hard to see someone’s invisible self. We have a hard enough time seeing our own invisible, true selves, never mind the invisible, true selves of others.

But it’s a critical exercise, for the way you see others frames how you approach designing for or with them, the insights you might have, and the solutions you then design.

You can see this type of thinking in many personas. They’re charicatures, not characters. They capture only the visible, lacking true insight into the invisible or true selves of people. They lack soul. They serve as containers for manufactured needs, rather than as a source of dreams.

caricatures of personas

Most often organizations see people only for what they need. For their neediness. In fact, all too often, they may be guilty of manufacturing neediness by focusing on (or even creating) problems, deficiencies, and inadequacies.

I don’t want to design for these types of manufactured needs. The world is filled with too many organizations, too many people, designing for manufactured needs.

As design for dreams not needs wormed its way deeper into my thinking I began asking harder questions about who I was designing for and what deeper needs they might have – needs based on their dreams rather than on manufactured neediness and goals that only bump up against people’s visible selves.

We need better needs

We need to dig deeper, far deeper, into people’s invisible selves if we want to bring more beauty into this world. For people’s dreams, unlike their manufactured needs, are most often beautiful.

Once we begin to see, to tease to the surface, these beautiful dreams that each of us hold, often hidden, within our hearts then we can begin to ask ourselves what might we do to help bring these beautiful dreams to fruition. For the needs revealed by asking the question this way are far more important, far more meaningful, than the needs (or the jobs-to-be-done) that we are so used to designed for.

For they are the needs of the soul.

The need to be creative
The need to learn and grow
The need to love
The need for beauty
The need for connection
The need to play
The need to feel valued and appreciated
The need for health (physical, mental, and spiritual)
The need to wonder at nature
The need to contribute our gifts to the world
The need to help others
The need for meaning, for connection to a higher purpose
The need to leave behind a legacy that is uniquely ours
The need to contribute to something larger than ourselves

And, maybe most important of all, the need to dream.

A thought experiment on needs vs dreams

Here’s a little thought experiment.

Choose one of these people – disabled vet, 97 year old woman living alone, prisoner – and quickly write down a list of their needs.

what are my needs?

Try this a second time. This time, using the Magic If technique, actually become that person. You are now that person. Channeling their hidden, true self, write down your deeper needs – the needs of your soul. Compare your two lists.

Try this a third time. Still using Magic If to become that person. From your true self, think about what brings you joy.

what brings me joy?

Now try this a fourth and final time. This time, from your true self, ask yourself what legacy do you dream of leaving behind?

What legacy do I dream of leaving behind?

Compare your lists. What do they reveal about how different ways of seeing a person frame what you think they need?

Who do your customers dream of becoming?

Who do you want your customer to become? asks Michael Schrage.

Who do your customers dream of becoming? Who do your employees dream of becoming? Who do you want your employees to become? Who do you want your team, your organization, your children, your community, your country, the world to become?

To answer these questions well is to discover your own dream. To answer these questions well is to uncover the dreams of those you are designing for.

Who do I want you to become? Someone who dreams beautiful dreams.

Who do I want to become? Someone who helps employees and entrepreneurs dream beautiful dreams. Someone who helps organizations dream beautiful dreams.

Imagine the possibilities if we designed organizations for beauty.

Imagine the possibilities if organizations transformed the employee experience so that work becomes a place for people to find meaning, dream big dreams, and discover their true selves.

For it is through beautiful dreams that we’ll create more beautiful organizations, communities, and the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.

If you are a dreamer who believes in designing for dreams, please share this post!

Please share this post!

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