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"The true purpose is to see things as they are, to observe things as they are, and to let everything go as it goes. This is to put everything under control in its widest sense." - Shunryu Suzuki
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Intent driven design

January 21st, 2018

People don’t want a drill. They want a hole.

People are often only given solutions that solve a portion of their original intent.

So what is intent?
Intent is being resolved or determined to do something. Doing this thing on which one is intent can be broken down into a series of smaller interconnected tasks constrained by a number of requirements (time, location, money, for example) which are only important in that they get you to your desired something. 

By listening carefully you can hear people's intention, rather than just the tasks they mention. 
To design for an intention, you must be able to sequence the tasks in the right order and make sure each task is possible within a particular set of requirements. 

If you can understand intent you can map tasks over time and predict your users’ future!

Let's take an example: cooking an omelette. This seems simple but it is actually deceptively complex to create a solution that fulfills the whole intent. The answer could be to look online or in a cookbook and to follow the instructions, which can often be a hit or miss approach. Instead, let's break this down from an intent-driven design approach. 

By listening and observing experienced cooks (or users) you can see three major things you need to do in sequence to make the perfect  omelette. 

Have the right cooking equipment. 
Have the right ingredients.
Know the right cooking techniques. 

Hence, an intent-driven solution would first make sure that you had the right equipment, and if you didn't would offer you alternatives you might already have, or would help you find a place nearby to get the right equipment. 

It would then check if you had the right ingredients to make the omelette. Once again, if you did not, it would suggest the places in your local area that have the ingredients you need. 

The final step would be to provide you with videos or clear instruction on the correct cooking technique to help you make the best omelette possible with the equipment and ingredients you have. 

Putting intent into practice
Very few, if any, services today offer this kind of complete intent-based solution. Making eggs is simple, but still there's a gap between the tasks and the intent. Imagine something more complex -- like buying a house!

The actual tasks when buying a house include :
Get financial advice, mortgage advice, mortgage loan, credit checks, real estate lawyer services, real estate broker, house finding services, building surveyor reports, school district data, house closing services, tax document action, notary services, and on and on and on……

You can see what I mean; you want a home but to fulfill that intent you “need’ all these services, people, and kinds of information-- in the right sequence--to be successful. 

Focusing on a user’s intent allows you as a designer to look into the future and predict what the user will need and when.

This is what Airbnb and Uber have done to some success and Apple does extremely well in its retail stores. They understand the intent of their users (e.g. for Uber, to get to a specific location in a set amount of time) and make services and products that cater to each of the tasks that the user requires in sequence to fulfill their actual intent. 

To use this method you should start by identifying the basic parameters for breaking down all the elements that will lead a person to be able to fulfill their intention. You can do this by asking the following questions:
1. How much time does the user have to complete their intent?
2. Do they have to be in a specific location?
3. How much money will they need / do they have to complete their intent?

Next, you should try to define three main categories of tasks which need to be accomplished for the person to fulfill their intent.

The final thing to do is to sequence the tasks and apply the time, location, and money parameters to create a design brief which, if met, will fully satisfy the person’s intent.

Sounds like magic but in fact it is just learning to listen in a very different way, and thinking more expansively about a design problem. 
     

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Kaushik Panchal
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