What does it mean to “solve the right problems in the right way”?

I’m a huge advocate for “solving the right problems in the right way”. Here’s what I mean.

On September 9, 2020 I was invited to speak at 12Coffee, “a not-for-profit speaker series consisting of 12 bi-weekly virtual coffee chats between students and a guest industry leader. You can watch the talk and Q&A here!

Due to popular demand, I started with a high-level overview of Design Thinking.

Design Thinking has become popular in the past 10 or so years. It’s a way of applying a designer’s mindset to problems that previously didn’t take that approach.

I’ve included a definition and highlighted a few words that I think are important.

Design thinking is a non-linear, iterative process that teams use to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions to prototype and test. Involving five phases — Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test — it is most useful to tackle problems that are ill-defined or unknown.
Interaction Design Foundation

The first word to emphasize is iterative. I described it as a rough draft of a paper at school, if you’re lucky to have a friend review it, you can make a bunch of changes then give it to your mom to proofread. Making more changes before submission. Each of those rounds would be considered iterations. We work iteratively in a lot of the newer ways of doing business, including Agile Scrum. Generating a lot of solutions and creating prototypes early drafts of a solution that can be tested is a huge part of this, we like to fail early and often. It is more efficient to learn what doesn’t work before we invest too many resources into it.

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The next one is understanding the user, this is where the deep research comes in. To understand how people actually behave as opposed to how they say they behave, there are very specific design research methods for this.

And we have challenging assumptions and redefining problems.

That means sometimes realizing that you were solving the wrong problem.

I explained it by giving the following example:

Your client says “build me a boat”.

One way you could respond is: “Okay, I’ll build you a boat, what do you need in the boat ? I’ll need $2 million to make that boat.“

Now, what if we questioned your client’s request.

What if we said, “Why do you need the boat?” and they said “to get to the other side of the water”.

You’d start to think, “maybe a bridge would suffice.”

But we ask further, “Why do you need to get to the other side of the water?”

They tell us it’s to deliver a message.

You’d start to think, maybe a letter or a postage system is the real need.

Sometimes people get so focused on the solution that they think they need instead of the problem that needs to be solved.

When we understand clients and users better, we can question assumptions and ensure that we are solving the right problem in the right way.

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Do you have any stories of clients asking for a “solution” that didn’t really solve a problem? Let me know in the comments.

designs experiences, solves complex problems, fights for social justice, nerds out on AI ethics & futures

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