What is the Kano Model – And Why Should You Care?

For many years, the prevailing attitude — especially in the IT industry — was that, since customers had no idea what they really needed or wanted, they had to be told. Whether the premise was ever true is still under debate. One thing has become clear, however — it is not true for today’s customers. In 1984, Noriaki Kano, a professor at the Tokyo University of Science, published his theory of customer satisfaction and product development. Known as the Kano Model, it contradicted conventional wisdom that improving every aspect of a product would be sufficient to increase customer satisfaction with the product. Kano believed that not every aspect was of equal importance to customers. He defined five categories of qualities, represented on a grid. The horizontal axis of the grid represents the company’s investment of time and/or money. The vertical axis represents the customer’s satisfaction, from extreme frustration at the bottom to delight at the top.

The Five Categories

The five categories of quality included in the Kano Model, as defined by Kano himself, are Must-be, One-dimensional, Attractive, Indifferent and Reverse. (It is important to note that a product’s qualities do not remain constant. They tend to migrate over time. For example, initially, a smartphone that could connect to the Internet was Attractive. As the feature became more common, this attribute moved to One-dimensional and should now be considered as a Must-be.)

Must-be Quality

These are the “must-haves” that the product must possess. The user takes for granted that the product has these qualities, and if the product fails on any of these qualities, the user will be extremely dissatisfied. Take, for example, Google Docs. Users assume that their files will be saved when they invoke the command. Should they discover that the file was not saved, they are going to be extremely unhappy. All that the developers at Google can do is ensure that the “Save” feature works every time, and no matter how much Google wants to spend on upgrading the application, it can never achieve better than 100 percent.

One-dimensional Quality

These are the normal qualities that a product has that offer satisfaction when present and dissatisfaction when absent. The user expects these qualities to be present, but does not take them for granted. Using the example of Google Docs again, users expect the ability to change font sizes or styles. If that ability were not present, they would be dissatisfied.

Attractive Quality

These qualities make the user happy when they are present, but the user typically does not experience any dissatisfaction when they are absent. One example of this type of quality would be a temperature bar on a laptop that indicated which “resource hogs” were causing the operating temperature to escalate. Any laptop user who has ever had Windows shut down to protect the hardware would appreciate the information. However, he has already figured out most of that for himself, so he will not respond negatively to its lack.

Indifferent Quality

These qualities do not result in either user satisfaction or dissatisfaction. If Google Docs offered 460 different fonts instead of 450, few users would notice, and fewer still would care.

Reverse Quality

This aspect refers to the fact that users can respond negatively to an overabundance of achievement, while recognizing that people have different preferences. A smartphone with dual programmable alarms might appeal to some “tech-savvy” individuals, but others would be put off by the steps required to set the alarms.

How to Use the Kano Model

When developing an app or software, teams can use the Kano Model to help them prioritize the order of work as well as to find ways to add value without increasing cost. The Kano Model works especially well with the agile method of development; in each cycle, the tasks that will be the most attractive or are considered the most essential can be given priority. Simultaneously, developers often find simple solutions to make the product more attractive. To illustrate, assume that a technology partner has been asked to develop a mobile app for a retailer’s online store.

  • Must-be: Naturally, the website must exist, and the user must be able to view the products available, make a selection and pay for his order.
  • One-dimensional: The user expects to be able to connect to the site with any mobile device, and he will be unhappy if his particular device cannot connect.
  • Attractive: If the user discovers that he can not only connect to the site with his device, but that the site features responsive design that optimizes the experience for his device, he will be pleased.
  • Indifferent: No one is really going to care whether the text font on the site is Arial or Times New Roman as long as it is easy to read.
  • Reverse: To some, the app itself might seem too complex. To others, not including features such as order tracking will be unsatisfactory.

As the team develops the app, the idea arises to add a customer-facing, real-time inventory feature so that users can determine whether an item is in stock before initiating an order (adding an attractive aspect). The team might also notice that the customer had mistakenly relegated iPhone connectivity to the “indifferent” category.


Entire books could be (and have been) written on how to best apply the Kano Model to various situations. The key principles are to remember that not every hour spent on improving a product will yield equal results. In some cases, it will be “gilding the lily,” and at other times, it will be a case of “making a mountain out of a molehill.”

Image Credit:

Kano model showing transition over time” by Craigwbrown – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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