Needfinding Sample

Activity Observations

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I observed the activity of looking for a used car on tight budget. This activity includes the tasks of information seeking, action, and research.

While this is an activity that is something that people do fairly infrequently—how often do you buy a car?— it’s a daunting and time-consuming one.  Researching models, finding good deals, avoiding scams, and laying down a nice chunk of money into something that could kill you, can be a harrowing process, and a design that made the process less so was something that intrigued me.

I wanted to see how three people with different approaches and levels of web savvy, who were all involved in the search for a car, would approach the situation, what their pain points and successes would be, and how I could learn what they really needed to make a decision on this large purchase.

I went in with no concrete, specific intentions of what I was looking to design. Rather I wanted to use the observation, feedback, and  experience to tell me what was needed.

Observation 1 - Your Bulletin BoardObservation 1: Bob and Your Bulletin Board

Bob is a 57-year old blue-collar worker searching for a vehicle for his wife. He has internet access at his home, but he never uses it. He chooses to research used cars using the local newspaper and Your Bulletin Board, a regional classified ads periodical.

While looking through the Bulletin Board, I noticed Bob being distracted by ads in other categories and the ridiculous ads in the autos for sale section. He would read aloud anything that was funny (“Dodge Truck – transmission blown, otherwise runs good”) or of the slightest interest aloud to the room. There were no photos, and the details were sparse. Many of the ads didn’t give mileage, gas efficiency, or even a contact number.

He did call a number on one of the ads for a 2000 Cadillac DeVille, but the seller wasn’t answering.

After about 30 minutes of this, he went over to the Miscellaneous for Sale section and entertained himself with listings selling Beanie Babies.

The car was forgotten.

Afterward, I asked him a few questions about his experience, taking care not to ask any leading questions.

A few highlights that came out of the interview:

“There’s nothing around here.”

“Everyone wants too much money for these junkers.”

“I wish they had a section for ‘Bob, look here.’”

“I can’t even remember which one I called about. Did you write that down?”


Observation 2: Cecilia and the Dealerships

Cecilia is a 58-year old married woman currently searching for a used car within her budget of $10,000 or less. She is a housewife with medical problems and has no vehicle during the day while her husband is at work. She has access to the internet via both a desktop computer and a Google Nexus tablet, but is somewhat of a novice user.


Cecilia used her tablet to peruse some local dealer websites with the intention of going to visit them if there were any cars she liked.

She visited the site of a local Ford dealer first. She was able to find the pre-owned section, but the results were misleading. The first result was for a Honda Shadow for $5000. She didn’t know what that car looked like, but the photo showed a woman in a gray car. It sounded like a reasonable deal to her. She googled Honda Shadow and we found it is actually a motorcycle.

That was the only car in her range, and it wasn’t even a car.

She moved on to the next site, which was a local Chevy dealership with a large (acres and acres) inventory. This site had better search results, with listing the fuel economy, mileage, etc. It was easier to tell what was of interest at a glance without clicking into the listing. There were a couple of listings that piqued her interest, and a way to save them.

A few highlights from our interview:

“The second site was better, but there’s still not that much of a selection.”

“I can’t go see the cars on Sunday because they’re closed.”

“I don’t want to waste my times going to a bunch of different places that don’t have anything I’m interested in.”

“I like that they tell you a lot up front.” (regarding the 2nd site)


Observation 3: Kay and the Craigslist Conundrum

Observation3_part2Kay is a tech-savvy 35-year old searching for a used car for her mother. She’s a busy IT professional who works late hours and lives about an hour from her mother, but closer to some of the auto hubs in the area.

She chose to use to find a car.

After choosing to view all cars, Kay narrowed her search by price and found more prospects. However, many of the results were over an hour away, did not actually fit into the price parameters (she chose $8000 as the high end and several dealer ads with “low $150 payments” were returned.) She was able to filter these by choosing “by owner only,” but this greatly reduced the amount of results. (Several of which could have been viable).

In addition, several irrelevant items, such as trailers, commercial vehicles, and cars for parts returned. By narrowing her search to a minimum of $3000, she was able to weed some of those out.


There was a Subaru Outback that interested her, so she called the seller, to find out the car had been sold already. She also sent a reply to a seller regarding a Toyota Avalon, but had to do so via the email, which meant she didn’t hear back immediately.

After about 40 minutes of perusing the listings, she gave up.

A few highlights from my post observation interview:

“I wish there was a way to hear back immediately on some of these.”

“A lot of these listings are over a week old, and that makes me think either the car is crap or that it’s been sold already.”

“There’s just no way to see the good stuff without the junk. And I have to come back every day to try to catch something good.”



I used the information gained in the interviews to come up with the needs, goals, and tasks for the project.


  1. Ability to filter by price (low, high, or range)
  2. Ability to filter by proximity (miles)
  3. Ability to filter by date posted
  4. Ability to filter by year
  5. Ability to filter by auto type (sedan, truck, SUV, etc)
  6. Stricter price guidelines (field must be filled out by sellers)
  7. Ability to save search criteria
  8. Notifications when new listings are posted that match your criteria (text, email)
  9. Live chat feature – possibly FaceTime/Google Chat/Skype
  10. View videos of cars – show interior, starting, etc
  11. Integration with third party sites to pull in information on book price, fuel economy, safety ratings, history and title reports, so you aren’t jumping around to research a vehicle.
  12. Ability to “favorite” listings – so you remember which ones interested you
  13. Listing hours of availability – so you can make arrangements to see a car
  14. After favoriting, show related listings (You might also like…)
  15. Ability to compare listings in a matrix
  16. At login, show cars that match your search criteria first, with the ability to expand
  17. Remember me/login with Google/login with Facebook
  18. Ability to share listings (email, text)
  19. Ability to add notes to favorites
  20. Ability to mark the listings you contacted
  21. Reviews for sellers (if applicable)
  22. Pic, price, seller type, year, Make/Model, location and distance listed on results