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What do you use your computer for? “Work. You know, email and stuff.” (Good grief!)


Many of you have probably been involved in a conversation that goes something like this:

“I need a new computer.”
“Why is that?”
“My old computer is dead.”
“What do you use your computer for?”
“Work. You know, email and stuff.”

What the customer wants

Unfortunately, the driver for many technology purchases is not what it can do for you but what the old technology once did but is now failing to do.

Many of us would be happy with exactly what we’ve got now but sadly progress often puts this option out of the question.

Of course, sometimes people don’t feel confident enough, or simply don’t know how, to communicate what it is they do with their computers. I am pretty sure most computer owners do a lot more than just “email and stuff” but aside from the occasional “Word and Excel” response that is what I am usually told.

Believe it or not, this is not a new problem, and even more incredibly, computer people have been trying to solve it for decades. It seems some geeks do really want to know what the customer wants. Who would have thought?

The theory is all well and good: Computers are supposed to do what the customer wants. However, reading people’s minds, it seems, turns out to be tough and computers can’t in fact do everything.

Boffins being boffins, they have tended to come up with complex and unwieldy solutions to understanding the specific things people want to do with their computers. In many instances, the language or tool these people develop to solve the problem ends up more complex than the initial problem. Clearly that is unhelpful.

Use Cases

One of the nice and simple solutions I’ve come across over the years is a thing called a “use case”.

According to Wikipedia, “a use case describes ‘who’ can do ‘what’ with the system in question.” True, once you get past the basic definition, things in the article start to get a little scary and complex. However, I like use cases because the term itself is often enough to prompt people to think harder about what a computer should do for them.

Sometimes I like to rephrase it like this:

“For this case I use the computer to do this.”

This gets the thinking going and then specifics can be added later.

For example:

“For work I use the computer to write documents.”

“For fun I use the computer to play games.”

“For the family I use the computer to manage our digital photos.”

And so on.

The statements are very high-level and broad at first but this is necessary. The broad statements are then broken down into their more specific components:

“For writing documents I need a grammar and spelling checker.”

“For fun I like games such as chess, solitaire and 3D shoot ‘em ups.”

“For managing digital photos I use the computer to touch up photos.”

You may have noticed I specifically avoided mentioning brands or solutions in the statements. This allows us to focus on an appropriate solution for the need. That is, if a product ticks all the boxes for your needs, then to some extent the brand may not matter.

So go ahead, grab a pen and paper and think of as many use cases as you can. Move beyond, ‘you know, email and stuff’. Writing down use cases for your next computer will allow you to have a better conversation with your computer supplier of choice. Try it!

David Moore has 25 years experience in the computer industry and is now Principal PC Hater at ihatemypc.com.au.