Finding The Real Problem Using Design Thinking

Updated: Oct 20



We have all heard about design thinking, but somehow believe that it is only for designers or creative minds to use. It sounds really complicated or unapproachable to so many of us. But is it really? Design thinking, it is all about building empathy with the users, brainstorming tons of ideas, creating several prototypes, sharing them with the clients, and finally unmasking your creative solution in the real world.


While this is the broadly defined process of design thinking, it is not a linear one. The process goes in loops until you know you arrive at what is truly required. It might not be simple, but is a lot of fun and can be applied to any problem, in any field. Maybe even in your everyday life. Empathy is considered to be the core of the whole process. It is the most humanizing step of the way. To truly empathize with the problem helps you start providing solutions which are contextual and relevant to the people facing the problem.


Is that really the problem?


People often think they know what the problem is. But many times they’re far from it. You need to refine and reframe what you think the problem is, until you get to the actual problem. Taking the data from empathizing with the problem, you unpack, synthesize, check for needs and look into insights. You might need more data at this point, for which you will have to go back to the empathize step and collect more data. At this stage you start to make the data more visual and start finding patterns and themes. You might learn that the problem is completely different from what you thought it was.


It is a very tricky stage, but you learn to embrace the ambiguity and uncertainty.


The right problem statement


Arriving at the right problem creates a sense of optimism and positivity. Without defining the problem statement accurately, the project will lack focus and the end result will suffer. . The right problem statement needs to be

  • Derived from users and what they need.

  • Broad enough to permit creative freedom and adapt multiple tools to find a solution

  • Narrow enough to be practicable and approachable

  • Fully unbiased and without any assumptions

According to the Interaction Design Foundation, “The goal is to articulate the problem so everyone can see it’s dimensions and feel inspired to systematically hunt for suitable solutions”


Exercises to arrive at the right problem statement


There are a lot of tools people use in various fields to arrive at the right problem.


  • Data Analysis Is the process of collecting - organizing - combining - sorting - manipulating and summarizing any type of data.. You take it in a quantitative form, discover information about it, form conclusions and help the decision making process.

  • Brainstorming is a technique that helps you get to conclusions about any questions you have. It helps you pick your neuron centers and think quickly and intuitively. It’s best to do it with a diverse group of people to have multiple brains to pick on, though it can be done alone too. It is a spontaneous method to let the whole group spill out their thoughts, without any fear of judgement.

  • 5 Whys - This method helps you drill down to the root of the actual problem. You start with the problem statement and keep asking why, until you’ve discovered the root cause. Sometimes it can take just 3 why’s to get to the root of the problem, and sometimes more than 5.

  • How might we is a great way to standardize note taking in a group setting. Similar to the 5 whys method, you can start with the problem statement and look into how might we solve different aspects of it. It is a classic way to condense all this information coming at you into very specific, opportunity focused notes.

  • Information Architecture or IA is the science of organizing and structuring content, in a logical and user friendly way. If you’re designing a website or an app, IA has a huge impact on how easy it is to navigate. IA has roots both in library science and cognitive psychology. Similar to how a librarian organizes books and knows where every book in the library is, you have all this information and decide what data goes where contributing to a positive user experience.

  • User Personas are most often done by UX designers. It is a representation of a particular audience segment, for a product or service that you’re designing. It allows you to create an example of the kind of person that could use your product or service, and lets you look at their frustrations and motivations. It gives you an overview of who they are as an individual as well.

  • User Scenarios are essentially a story that describes a particular way a user interacts with your product or service to complete a particular goal or task. The user is often linked to a persona and the story describes their needs, motivations and reasons for why they want to complete a particular task or goal.

I would spend 55 minutes defining a problem and 5 minutes solving it - Albert Einstein


To conclude this


It is very important for us to truly understand what the actual problem statement is, and if we are on the right track to solve the right problem. Really questioning the problem statement and getting down to the core of it helps you build a strong foundation to solving it while improving the morale of the team. It is easy to assume you know the right problem statement, but the assumption only sends the whole team off track. The key is being patient, making time and space for it and letting it brew. And who doesn’t love a good brew?


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