What Is a Need?


A need is something that you can’t live without, like air and water. It’s different from a want, which is a desire or wish for something. The difference between needs and wants is a central theme in the fields of philosophy, biology, psychology, social science, economics and marketing.

The word need is a semi-modal verb; it acts sometimes like an auxiliary and sometimes like a main verb. It agrees with its subject, takes to before the verb following it and combines with do in questions, negations and certain other constructions: You needn’t go so soon; you don’t need to leave. However, the negative form is needn’t, which is shortened to needn’t in informal speech and writing.

It’s also used in the phrase, “have need of,” meaning the same thing: something is needed. This usage is common in business and finance, especially when referring to budgeting and forecasting: “We have a need for more employees.”

In psychology, the concept of need is a key topic of research and debate. The prevailing view is that human beings must satisfy basic physiological and safety needs before moving on to higher-level psychological needs such as self-actualization. The lower-level needs serve as a foundation, and if they aren’t met, the higher-level needs will remain unfulfilled.

Applied to the product design process, this theory suggests that products will not succeed unless they meet user needs. To this end, designers must understand user expectations and the underlying motivations for their choices. Product designers often use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, an evolutionary pyramid graphic illustrating the need-based motivational model with Physiological needs at the bottom and Self-Actualization at the top.

Financial need is the amount of money you need to attend college, which is calculated by subtracting the cost of attendance (COA) from your estimated family contribution (EFC). Then, colleges use this figure to determine the type and amount of grants, loans and work-study they will award as part of your financial aid package. The need-based application is known as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

In the business world, need is a commonly used metric for assessing market potential and evaluating performance. A need analysis examines an opportunity, evaluates competitors, identifies barriers to entry and defines strategies for success. To conduct a need analysis, companies can employ qualitative or quantitative methods. The resulting analysis is then used to guide product development, resource allocation, investment decisions and marketing efforts. Need analytics are used by all types of businesses, from start-ups to Fortune 100 companies, to identify and pursue opportunities for growth. They are also important tools in corporate philanthropy to assess the effectiveness of programs. A need analysis can help a company develop and deploy targeted philanthropic activities to improve its community impact. The data gathered from need analysis can also be used to create new products and services that address emerging consumer demand. This can increase a company’s profitability and its ability to innovate.