Imagine you are on a nice tropical holiday somewhere off the beaten track, and you find this nice bar to go in and there is a sign on the wall that says, “Please don’t put your backpack on the bar.”

This may seem like a simple prohibition, but if you want to get better at product design – there’s a lesson to be learnt.

What the sign tells you is that at some point the owner had had enough of people putting their backpacks on the bar and hoped that a sign would stop people from doing it. It points to something in the organisation’s history that is relevant today.

When you’re talking to your customers to elicit an understanding of what they need it’s common that the organisation won’t explicitly say things, but you can still either make straightforward inferences, or see indicators that there are areas where you have to dig.

Customers are (usually) always forthcoming, but they are literally living in the forest and can’t see the trees, so you have to get good at teasing this extra information out of them.