Deconstruct, Decompose and Define

A lot of the time what we think we want is not actually what we need. I have to tell myself this frequently when I want my third cup of coffee but my body is crying for a glass of water. Just one glass, please Libby we’re so dehydrated. This same problem can also happen when people, companies or organizations think they have a solution in mind when in reality they haven’t even addressed the correct problem.

It may seem like a daunting task to define a problem and not just immediately begin doing what every other organization seems to be doing. No, you don’t need an app, website or punch card just because someone else has one. This is often a difficult concept to grasp but through creative problem solving you can define the real problem and create a better solution than previously imagined.

To better illustrate how to use design thinking to narrow down an issue and problem frame I will go step by step through a classwork exercise I recently did about solving a problem on my college campus.

To begin the class got in small groups and listed problems on sticky notes regarding what we thought were the biggest issues on campus. I listed issues like not enough parking and the slow response time of Public Safety. Next, we came up with issues together; this is to bridge the gap of any issues we may have previously missed and to combine our shared experiences. Once the list was finalized we brought out colored dot stickers and placed one on each problem we thought was the most important, we repeated this step again with the slimed down group until we decided on the final problem: making the shuttle system more accessible to students.

As a note, it’s best to keep problems specific and easy to define. Christian Reuterfrom ThoughtBot says that,

“Counter-intuitively, highly specific problem statements can generate more solutions. Be specific about the job to be done and the people that you’re designing for.”

In class our professor mentioned that as students we wouldn’t be able to solve and budget problems so we should try to avoid things our limited reach couldn’t touch.

Next, create “How Might We” questions to help clarify your chosen problem. We knew that we wanted to help make the shuttle system easier operate so our How Might We questions included “How Might We create a positive relationship between students and shuttle?” “How Might We minimize transportation anxiety?” and “How Might We ensure all student needs are being met?”. This step is broad, it’s important to remember that you’re not trying to create a solution and solve an issue, but to define the issue in the first place.

The Academy From Innovation & Entrepreneurship put out a great video on design thinking and the define step of problem solving where they add their own important step. Once you’ve collected data, slimmed down the problem and asked the “How Might We” question try asking yourself “What I Heard”, “What I Felt” and “What I Wonder”. These questions are a great way to remember to empathize with your audience and consumers while keeping their humanity and most important needs in mind. Empathy is what powers design thinking and solving problems would be impossible without it.




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