Problem Statement: Define a measurable solution

How to frame our insights as user-focused, actionable goals to determine our future design solutions.

When you create content as an artist, you rely on your instincts to generate ideas. Aesthetically, art is meant to provoke conflict, emotions, and thought, and this type of friction is a sign that they are a good artist.

Photo by Max Kobus on Unsplash

But when you’re creating content as a designer, relying on instinct to design is a surefire way to cause friction that, at best, could delay feature implementation, and at worst could tank an entire company. see The Myth of the Genius Designer.

Being a good designer means making people think less. Designers need to manage risk for the business goals of a company and design for the needs of the customer. Form and function are a call and response, a symbiotic relationship that only exists because of each other.

In this article, I’m going to discuss how designers present a defined problem from their synthesized research, that aligns teams and stakeholders removed from the research when searching for a suitable solution.

Design Thinking Recap

Double Diamond is the name of a design process for designers as well as non-designers. It explores four phases — Discover, Define, Develop, and Deliver.

In the problem definition phase of the double diamond design process, our goal is to define a core problem that users are experiencing so we can begin generating possible solutions in the next phase, develop. The tool we use to do this is called a problem statement, a point-of-view statement or a user need statement.

What is a Problem Statement

Per the Nielsen Norman Group;

A problem statement is an actionable problem statement used to summarize who a particular user is, the user’s need, and why the need is important to that user.

The objectives of a problem statement are;

  • to define what you want to solve before you move on to generating potential solutions.
  • to improve team alignment and accountability by condensing your perspective on the problem.
  • to establish intentions with stakeholders and external team members.
  • to establish a metric for success to be used throughout the design process.

Your problem statement should answer these questions:

  • Who, in concise but specific terms, are your users?
  • What do your users need?
  • Why do your users need it?

Again from the Nielsen Norman Group: Most importantly, the purpose of user need statements is to capture what we want to achieve with our design, not how. They help advance our presumptive solutions from specific features (such as a button or other UI implementation) towards deep insights about the problem that the user needs to solve. Simplistically, user need statements to encourage us to see users’ needs as verbs (that is, goals and end states) instead of nouns that describe solutions. For example, users don’t ever need a dropdown (noun); they need to see the choices that they can make and select one of them (verb). They don’t need a dashboard (noun) — they need to digest varied information in one place (verb). The nouns are possible solutions to users’ needs, but they are not the only solutions. If we focus on these nouns, we run the risk of ending up with suboptimal designs. The entire purpose of ideation is to explore ideas, so don’t lock yourself down prematurely by selecting the solution too early.

Learn more about deep insights over features:

How to define a problem statement

First, you should go through your research and pull out unique and focused insights to provide scope and direction towards an actionable statement, then;

Ask Questions

To establish a foundation to build your problem statement on, begin by asking yourself these questions:

  • Who is experiencing the problem?
  • What is the problem that you’re trying to solve for your users?
  • What are your users’ goals?
  • Where does the problem exist?
  • Why is important that this problem is solved?
  • How do you want your user to feel while using your product?

These questions will help you identify the most prevalent issues to focus your problem statement on.

Learn another question-based strategy; the five why’s.

Define user framework

Now, we can take these answers and start to construct as many possible versions of a problem statement. Each one should focus on a specific variable.

https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/topics/problem-statement

The ideal problem statement should define three key things:

the user, their needs, and an insight (why their need is needed).

Here are two structures to follow:

“[User] needs a way to [problem/need] because [insight]”.

“[Audience or user] needs [tool or avenue] to [address a problem/need/goal] because/so that [insight].”

I like to color-code each component:

An example of one of my color-coded notes for a problem statement.

Once you’ve created different problem statement opportunities, you can begin to combine them until you have a statement that best addresses the user’s need.

Other Thoughts

Depending on the project, the stage of development, and the complexity of the problems that need to be solved, you might have multiple problem statements.

If you’re working on a smaller, more specific project within a larger project, you might want to define both a micro and macro problem statement.

Macro problem statement addressing the larger project by defining the problems worth solving

Micro problem statement addressing your project’s specific focus and will help you understand if you’re solving the problem right.

if you’re designing a product with multiple sides of the platform, such as a customer side and an admin side, it might be useful to define a unique problem statement for each side.

Conclusion

By taking the most focused research insights, we can turn them into a specific, actionable, and user-focused description to capture what we want to achieve with our future designs.

Written by

UX Designer w/ a background as a photographer and digital artist. I’m a visual storyteller dedicated to solving complex problems & producing creative solutions.

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