Background Note | HBS Case Collection | June 1994 (Revised September 1994)

Commercializing Technology: Imaginative Understanding of User Needs

by Dorothy A. Leonard


The transformation of technology into commercially successful products is a process fraught with risk and uncertainty, and increasing pressure on time to market is exacerbating the difficulties. This note first describes a study conducted by Hewlett-Packard to improve its product development process as an illustration of the increasing focus companies are placing on understanding user needs. A framework of different technology commercialization situations is proposed and the concept of empathic design introduced as a potent mechanism for anticipating user needs, especially under conditions of moderate technical and market uncertainty. Researchers often find traditional market research techniques incompatible with creatively understanding user needs. That is, in many situations, customers cannot ask for a new product (or even a new feature) because they do not know what is possible, technologically.

Keywords: Transformation; Communication Strategy; Customers; Design; Marketing; Consumer Behavior; Product Development; Research; Risk and Uncertainty; Commercialization; Technology Adoption;


Leonard, Dorothy A. "Commercializing Technology: Imaginative Understanding of User Needs." Harvard Business School Background Note 694-102, June 1994. (Revised September 1994.)