Toy Story 4 is a heartwarming tale about user needs. The toys battle to fulfill the needs of children throughout the movie, sometimes with each other, sometimes with themselves. There are three characters in the fourth installment of the series who show different ways information can be gained about users and their desires in design.
The movie begins with Bonnie, a young girl starting kindergarten, feeling vulnerable in a new environment. To solve this, Bonnie creates Forky, a new toy made up of a spork, googly eyes, and a variety of other crafting materials and garbage. Forky is simple. He doesn’t have cool lasers like Buzz Lightyear or a well-crafted build like Woody the Cowboy, but he fits Bonnie’s needs in the moment. She is able to express herself creatively with him and soothe her loneliness at the same time. Forky may not have a voice box or detachable accessories, but he works just fine for Bonnie. A simple, easy design is good for her.
We meet Duke Caboom during the movie, a toy modeled after an extraordinary Canadian daredevil. Duke used to belong to a boy called Rejean, but was cast aside when Rejean discovered the toy did not perform to his expectations as originally advertised. In his commercials, Duke is seen soaring through the air much like his namesake. In actuality, Duke doesn’t jump from his platform very far. Rejean had an expectation of Duke’s abilities based on what was advertised, and was let down during testing. An idea was presented to him, but there was no follow-through in execution.
An older doll, Gabby Gabby, wishes desperately to be played with by a little girl, Harmony, who visits her shop often. With a broken voice box, Gabby doesn’t think that Harmony will want to play with her. Her mission is to find a working box to replace her own, to the detriment of some of the other toys. When she finally gets one and presents herself to Harmony, she expects that this fix will grant her the love of a child she’s been wanting. Harmony shows no interest in Gabby, though, even with her repairs. There was nothing wrong with Gabby to make Harmony dislike her; it is likely that Harmony would never have wanted to play with Gabby. A small change to the overall design does nothing if the user has no interest in the design in the first place.
Toy Story 4 has many themes but broadly it’s a movie about filling niches and managing expectations. Like all of the films in the franchise, the toys strive to understand their place in the world. They discover their own flaws and adapt to the changing needs of the kids around them. Sometimes this means updating what they believe a child wants or simply making themselves available to a new child. Ultimately they learn that kids’ needs come first. It all comes back to identifying and catering to user needs and learning through user feedback. The toys would make excellent UX designers!