Customers And Design: Steve Jobs or IKEA? Or Why Co-Design Matters

September 14, 2018 • Reading time 3 minutes

When building products and designing software interfaces there are broadly two main schools of thought on how much to involve customers in the design process.

1. The first one is designing the product mostly yourself as customers often do not quite know what they really want.

2. The other is involving customers deeply in the co-design of the product as they know best what they will like.

Of course, there are a variety of hybrid methods where customers are shown different options and get to pick.

Below we outline how we think about this trade-off when designing data products that are used by managers in a hospital. For example, our Space Finder product which is used by bookers to more efficiently plan theatre lists.

The Steve Jobs way

Steve Jobs famously said: “It’s not the customer’s job to know what they want”, this is because customers often don’t know what is possible until they are shown new solutions. This occurs particularly at the value creation stage, when you are looking to create something completely new. Some might say it is a combination of perceptiveness, observational skills and pattern recognition that means Apple keeps delivering products that its users love. All agree that users are unlikely to come up with the iPad or iPhone in a focus group…

The IKEA way

IKEA recognised the why behind people hating furniture shopping and built a new user-centered experience. Indeed, studies show that the process of assembling your own furniture create increased value for customers. This is paradoxically due to the effort expended. We tend to like things that were hard to acquire and struggling through the creation process makes us invested in the final product. It is technically not the “design” but the assembly that is done by the customer but the point holds: co-assemble your product and you will like it more. Very important when the product relies on you using it every day!

A Hybrid model– The Edge way

At Edge we focus on building efficiency improving software tools for the NHS. we are often faced with the choice of how to design or how to alter design choices of our software products for end users. What we have found works very well is a hybrid approach.

We rely on our own assumptions to simplify complexity, built on continuous testing and iteration – classic iterative approaches that have also been adopted by the likes of Airbnb or Babylon Health.

We also however rely heavily on co-designing with the end-users: We involve the users in focus groups to find their pain points and solicit ideas and preferences for the software interface. This can be time consuming but assures that they feel comfortable using the product/ interface, are invested in it and that the software definitely addresses the issues they face on an everyday basis. It also allows users to feel more like “they built it” and as such it is “their product” which helps bring everyone on board.

In industries where perfectly designed products can fail in the adoption phase like is often seen in healthcare IT initiatives those are key steps to success – we recommend you try it!


Edge Health are a specialist UK healthcare analytics consultancy that use data and insights to improve the delivery of health and care services, so that better outcomes can be delivered more efficiently.