Define the problem first

By Jan Srutek

It is easy for designers to jump to conclusions prematurely. After seeing one usability testing session and identifying a flaw in the user interface, it’s tempting to design a solution that seems to fix it.

But problems arise if one does not take the time to uncover the underlying issues: are you fixing the problem, or a symptom of the problem?

Nothing is more frustrating than realising halfway through that you have been solving the wrong problem all along. To avoid this, it is crucial to evaluate problems holistically, and to seek to understand their root causes. In fact, if you define a problem in sufficient detail, you will have often already found a solution to it.

That is why we advocate a user-centred design approach. We talk to real customers to build understanding of their motivations and needs, and use the insight we gain to design elegant solutions that engage customers with our clients’ brands.

On a recent project, the client asked us to design some brand new functionality for their ecommerce site. No user research was planned upfront due to time constraints, but we believed that understanding people’s needs and motivations was crucial to coming up with a useful and usable solution.

We worked around the tight timeframes by doing some lightweight guerrilla research. I read online discussion forums where customers of our client and of their competitors discussed their pain points and frustrations related to the given product category.

Analysing the emerging themes, we realised the problem space was slightly more complex than we had thought, and revealed a few motivations that we had not considered previously. We then visually mapped all the motivations we uncovered and arranged them in order of importance.

Understanding the people allowed us to come up with four experience-driven concepts, beyond the purely functional. These innovative, original concepts would probably not have occurred to us if we had jumped straight into design, without immersing ourselves in the problem space first and empathising with people’s needs.

What do you think?