Problem Identification in Engineering Design

Problem identification is the first step of the engineering problem solving method. The relevant themes, processes and techniques for electrical engineering and their application to the senior design project are presented here.

Theory and Background

Engineering is a profession of applied science.  Engineers must creatively find new ways to solve problems, and are always real-world problems.  As a result, they are usually more complex than most problems studied in school, since many of the assumptions that are made to illustrate a concept are no longer valid.  Yet, engineers still must come up with some solution.  With so many new factors to consider when forming a solution, the entire process may seem daunting.  In this way, one of the most critical steps in the problem solving process is solid problem identification.  By effectively identifying the exact problem, and engineer may limit his or her focus to only the factors required to solve that problem (Shaw, 2001).

When inexperienced students go about the problem solving process, there are several paths they might take.  For example, suppose students are building some type of robot.  They have wired all their circuits together, but upon testing the robot, it simply does not work.  The worst path they could take in this problem solving situation is to place all the blame upon factors out of their control.  “The wires we have are faulty, so there is nothing we can do.”  While this might be the case, it should be the last resort, as it leads to giving up on all prior work.

More motivated students might check several parts of their design and tinker with it until it works.  This ad-hoc method is most common.  The students can recall different ideas they have heard might cause problems, and check each one sequentially until a solution is found.  In this manner, the problem identification is melded directly to the solution, as finding the latter leads to discovering the former.  The difficulty with this ad-hoc method is that it varies with each project, so a more general system to fix problems cannot be extracted from this.

The best students may look at generalized problem solving methods that have been studied and improved upon for decades, and find a way to apply it to their project.  This is the path that we will examine, and to do so, we will look at several example methods.

Common Themes

The similarities among the problem solving methods can be seen across many industries, especially business.  Even with no scientific or technical aspects to a situation, the same ideas identify the problems effectively.  One main cause for the similarities is the desire in business and other fields to have a rigorous methodology aimed at improving the target idea, project, company, etc.

To look at some common themes in problem solving methods, we will compare four widely used techniques: the TRIZ method, Root Cause Failure Analysis, and the two methods described in How to Solve It by Pólya (1957).

TRIZ Method

TRIZ, which is a Russian acronym for Theory of Inventive Problem Solving , is a problem solving method based on the study of patterns in problems and solutions.  The developers of this method have analyzed over three million inventions with the intent of predicting where breakthroughs will come from (Jugulum & Samuel, 2008). The idea is that problems and solutions are repeated across a wide variety of applications, so by generalizing the problem, one can find a proven solution.  Once the abstracted problem has been solved, the solution must then be adapted to the specific situation.

This method, like many other problem solving methods, is an iterative process.  Identifying the problem is the first step.  Once all the TRIZ analysis tools have been used and a solution has been identified, the process cycles back to identification again.  Any new factors that arise from the initial solution must be addressed and attacked in the same manner as the original situation.

The main tool of classical TRIZ analysis for problem definition is the contradiction matrix.  The axes of the matrix are engineering parameters, and potential general solutions are filled in the boxes.  When one solution leads to a larger problem, a contradiction is identified. Kutz describes the tool:

The objective of the matrix is to direct the problem-solving process to incorporate an idea that has been utilized before to solve an analogous ‘‘inventive’’ problem. The contradiction matrix accomplishes this by asking two simple questions: Which element of the system is in need of improvement? If improved, which element of the system is deteriorated?” (Kutz, 2006, p. 622)

This is a useful tool if the design process is certain to be a long and iterative one.  By going through such exhaustive planning and searching in the beginning, one can cut down many iterations in the process.  However, the tool falls short if the scope is problem.  It simply may not be necessary to write out the entire matrix for a problem that has only a few clear parameters to it.

Root Cause Failure Analysis

In reliability engineering and quality control, the main objective is to deal with problems and failures.  It seems clear that a systematic approach to identifying the problem would arise in this field.  This is the aim of Root Cause Failure Analysis (RFCA) (Mobley, 1999).  The main idea is to identify the root cause of the problem that arises and eliminate it, as opposed to waiting for effects and mitigating them.  It is analogous to getting vaccinated for the flu instead of waiting to catch it and then buying tissues.

There are several analysis techniques used in RFCA.  These include Failure Mode and Effects Analysis, Cause and Effect Analysis, also known as fishbone analysis, and Sequence of Events Analysis.  The applicability of each technique depends on what type of problem is present and what you want to focus on.  For example, when the problem arose over time, the sequence analysis might be best.  Alternatively, when you just want to lay out all possible causes without giving weight to any, the fishbone analysis is useful.  A diagram of fishbone analysis is shown in Figure 1.

Fishbone Analysis.

The main issue unique to RFCA is the high cost of performing such an analysis (Mobley,1999). This means it should be used only when it is absolutely necessary. Also, it is somewhat limited in scope, as it was originally designed for use in chemical plant analysis.

How to Solve It

The book How to Solve It , written in 1957 by mathematician George Pólya, gives the methods used to solve many math problems and abstracts them to general problems.  He generally describes the steps as understanding the problem, making a plan, carrying it out, and analyzing.

One of the most useful ideas he puts forth that is widely used in mathematics is to find an analogous problem and solve it.  This is more useful in the extremely abstract world of mathematics where assumptions always hold true and objects are perfect, but the technique can be used to get a good approximation of a real world problem.  In the world of engineering, this may be sufficient to get the job done.

While the techniques outlined in the book are very interesting to me as a mathematician, there are times when the methods can fall short.  It is good practice to see how rigorous problem identifications and solutions can be generalized, but that is the majority of what the method does.  To go out and solve your specific problem, there are still many specific connections to be made.

Application to Senior Project

The problem identification process is critical to the senior design project’s success.  Before any design, implementation, or even productive planning can be done, the central problems behind the project must be laid out.  This process goes hand in hand with identifying customer specifications.  It is always critical to know precisely what the customer wants; however, in the ECE senior design projects , where student have essentially no prior experience, this step should get special care.  See Ulrich & Eppinger (2004) for more information on customer specifications.

Once the customer’s needs and desires have been finalized, the problem identification may begin.  There will almost certainly be multiple areas of the project that have a main problem.  As you look at all the items the customer has suggested or demanded, you may find contradicting qualities.  Here is where breaking the problem down to its most basic form is crucial. Only then can engineering decisions be made about which areas to compromise for the good of the whole project.

While the customer specification process only should occur once, the problem identification occurs many times as the design process is iterated.  For example, in the Red Team’s senior project , which involved modifying a Parrot AR Drone toy helicopter to be able to autonomously collect data, the first major problem was finding usable and inexpensive hardware to add (Video 1).  Once that had been solved, the next problem area was designing software that would allow the drone to hover stably at a target.  Initially these two problems appeared to be the largest challenges; however, upon completing preliminary testing, it was discovered that no matter how sophisticated the stabilizing algorithm became, the helicopter would not remain very stable.  As a result, the problem solving branched out in a direction previously unexpected.  The process of identifying this new problem led to a workable solution.

The Red Team’s autonomous drone project navigating and gathering data. Source: Tufts SPARTN Channel on YouTube.com.

Cited References

  • Jugulum, R., & Samuel, P. (2008). Design for Lean Six Sigma – A Holistic Approach to Design and Innovation . Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons. OCLC WorldCat Permalink: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/637224080
  • Kutz, M. (2006). Mechanical Engineers’ Handbook – Materials and Mechanical Design (3rd ed.). Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons. OCLC WorldCat Permalink: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/59003354
  • Mobley, R.K. (1999). Root Cause Failure Analysis . Boston: Newnes/Elsevier. OCLC WorldCat Permalink: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/40255833
  • Pólya, G. (1957).  How to Solve It . Garden City, NY: Doubleday. OCLC WorldCat Permalink: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/523312
  • Shaw, M. C. (2001). Engineering Problem Solving – A Classical Perspective . Norwich: William Andrew Publishing/Noyes. OCLC WorldCat Permalink: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/633151037

Additional Sources / Recommended Reading

  • Ulrich, K. T. & Eppinger, S. D. (2004). Product Design and Development . Boston/New York: McGraw-Hill/ Irwin. OCLC WorldCat Permalink: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/122424997
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How to solve problems using the design thinking process

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The design thinking process is a problem-solving design methodology that helps you develop solutions in a human-focused way. Initially designed at Stanford’s d.school, the five stage design thinking method can help solve ambiguous questions, or more open-ended problems. Learn how these five steps can help your team create innovative solutions to complex problems.

As humans, we’re approached with problems every single day. But how often do we come up with solutions to everyday problems that put the needs of individual humans first?

This is how the design thinking process started.

What is the design thinking process?

The design thinking process is a problem-solving design methodology that helps you tackle complex problems by framing the issue in a human-centric way. The design thinking process works especially well for problems that are not clearly defined or have a more ambiguous goal.

One of the first individuals to write about design thinking was John E. Arnold, a mechanical engineering professor at Stanford. Arnold wrote about four major areas of design thinking in his book, “Creative Engineering” in 1959. His work was later taught at Stanford’s Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design (also known as d.school), a design institute that pioneered the design thinking process. 

This eventually led Nobel Prize laureate Herbert Simon to outline one of the first iterations of the design thinking process in his 1969 book, “The Sciences of the Artificial.” While there are many different variations of design thinking, “The Sciences of the Artificial” is often credited as the basis. 

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A non-linear design thinking approach

Design thinking is not a linear process. It’s important to understand that each stage of the process can (and should) inform the other steps. For example, when you’re going through user testing, you may learn about a new problem that didn’t come up during any of the previous stages. You may learn more about your target personas during the final testing phase, or discover that your initial problem statement can actually help solve even more problems, so you need to redefine the statement to include those as well. 

Why use the design thinking process

The design thinking process is not the most intuitive way to solve a problem, but the results that come from it are worth the effort. Here are a few other reasons why implementing the design thinking process for your team is worth it.

Focus on problem solving

As human beings, we often don’t go out of our way to find problems. Since there’s always an abundance of problems to solve, we’re used to solving problems as they occur. The design thinking process forces you to look at problems from many different points of view. 

The design thinking process requires focusing on human needs and behaviors, and how to create a solution to match those needs. This focus on problem solving can help your design team come up with creative solutions for complex problems. 

Encourages collaboration and teamwork

The design thinking process cannot happen in a silo. It requires many different viewpoints from designers, future customers, and other stakeholders . Brainstorming sessions and collaboration are the backbone of the design thinking process.

Foster innovation

The design thinking process focuses on finding creative solutions that cater to human needs. This means your team is looking to find creative solutions for hyper specific and complex problems. If they’re solving unique problems, then the solutions they’re creating must be equally unique.

The iterative process of the design thinking process means that the innovation doesn’t have to end—your team can continue to update the usability of your product to ensure that your target audience’s problems are effectively solved. 

The 5 stages of design thinking

Currently, one of the more popular models of design thinking is the model proposed by the Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design (or d.school) at Stanford. The main reason for its popularity is because of the success this process had in successful companies like Google, Apple, Toyota, and Nike. Here are the five steps designated by the d.school model that have helped many companies succeed.

1. Empathize stage

The first stage of the design thinking process is to look at the problem you’re trying to solve in an empathetic manner. To get an accurate representation of how the problem affects people, actively look for people who encountered this problem previously. Asking them how they would have liked to have the issue resolved is a good place to start, especially because of the human-centric nature of the design thinking process. 

Empathy is an incredibly important aspect of the design thinking process.  The design thinking process requires the designers to put aside any assumptions and unconscious biases they may have about the situation and put themselves in someone else’s shoes. 

For example, if your team is looking to fix the employee onboarding process at your company, you may interview recent new hires to see how their onboarding experience went. Another option is to have a more tenured team member go through the onboarding process so they can experience exactly what a new hire experiences.

2. Define stage

Sometimes a designer will encounter a situation when there’s a general issue, but not a specific problem that needs to be solved. One way to help designers clearly define and outline a problem is to create human-centric problem statements. 

A problem statement helps frame a problem in a way that provides relevant context in an easy to comprehend way. The main goal of a problem statement is to guide designers working on possible solutions for this problem. A problem statement frames the problem in a way that easily highlights the gap between the current state of things and the end goal. 

Tip: Problem statements are best framed as a need for a specific individual. The more specific you are with your problem statement, the better designers can create a human-centric solution to the problem. 

Examples of good problem statements:

We need to decrease the number of clicks a potential customer takes to go through the sign-up process.

We need to decrease the new subscriber unsubscribe rate by 10%. 

We need to increase the Android app adoption rate by 20%.

3. Ideate stage

This is the stage where designers create potential solutions to solve the problem outlined in the problem statement. Use brainstorming techniques with your team to identify the human-centric solution to the problem defined in step two. 

Here are a few brainstorming strategies you can use with your team to come up with a solution:

Standard brainstorm session: Your team gathers together and verbally discusses different ideas out loud.

Brainwrite: Everyone writes their ideas down on a piece of paper or a sticky note and each team member puts their ideas up on the whiteboard. 

Worst possible idea: The inverse of your end goal. Your team produces the most goofy idea so nobody will look silly. This takes out the rigidity of other brainstorming techniques. This technique also helps you identify areas that you can improve upon in your actual solution by looking at the worst parts of an absurd solution. 

It’s important that you don’t discount any ideas during the ideation phase of brainstorming. You want to have as many potential solutions as possible, as new ideas can help trigger even better ideas. Sometimes the most creative solution to a problem is the combination of many different ideas put together.

4. Prototype stage

During the prototype phase, you and your team design a few different variations of inexpensive or scaled down versions of the potential solution to the problem. Having different versions of the prototype gives your team opportunities to test out the solution and make any refinements. 

Prototypes are often tested by other designers, team members outside of the initial design department, and trusted customers or members of the target audience. Having multiple versions of the product gives your team the opportunity to tweak and refine the design before testing with real users. During this process, it’s important to document the testers using the end product. This will give you valuable information as to what parts of the solution are good, and which require more changes.

After testing different prototypes out with teasers, your team should have different solutions for how your product can be improved. The testing and prototyping phase is an iterative process—so much so that it’s possible that some design projects never end.

After designers take the time to test, reiterate, and redesign new products, they may find new problems, different solutions, and gain an overall better understanding of the end-user. The design thinking framework is flexible and non-linear, so it’s totally normal for the process itself to influence the end design. 

Tips for incorporating the design thinking process into your team

If you want your team to start using the design thinking process, but you’re unsure of how to start, here are a few tips to help you out. 

Start small: Similar to how you would test a prototype on a small group of people, you want to test out the design thinking process with a smaller team to see how your team functions. Give this test team some small projects to work on so you can see how this team reacts. If it works out, you can slowly start rolling this process out to other teams.

Incorporate cross-functional team members : The design thinking process works best when your team members collaborate and brainstorm together. Identify who your designer’s key stakeholders are and ensure they’re included in the small test team. 

Organize work in a collaborative project management software : Keep important design project documents such as user research, wireframes, and brainstorms in a collaborative tool like Asana . This way, team members will have one central source of truth for anything relating to the project they’re working on.

Foster collaborative design thinking with Asana

The design thinking process works best when your team works collaboratively. You don’t want something as simple as miscommunication to hinder your projects. Instead, compile all of the information your team needs about a design project in one place with Asana. 

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Redefine the Problem: The Design Thinking Path

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  • Olivier Sibony 4  

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The design thinking path to problem solving is appropriate whenever the problem is human centered, complex, and too poorly understood to be defined using the analytical TOSCA approach. In design thinking, the problem owner you consider is the user of the solution you are trying to design. Typically, this is a product or service, but the design thinking path can be used to create a strategy, an organization, and so on. To state the problem, a designer will first empathize with users through observation, empathy and immersion, in order to gain insights into the problems they face and the way they experience them. It will then become possible to define the problem with a set of design imperatives and a how-might-we design goal.

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Garrette, B., Phelps, C., Sibony, O. (2018). Redefine the Problem: The Design Thinking Path. In: Cracked it!. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-89375-4_8

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Chapter 1: Problem Identification

Chapter 1 goal.

The goal of this chapter of the design report is to clearly identify and articulate the problem the team intends to solve. Problem identification is an essential part of the design process. As you write, carefully consider the reader’s perspective as someone outside of this class, or someone completely unfamiliar with the project.

Below is a list of common sections to include in the Problem Identification.  Every project is unique! Some of the sections below may not be applicable and can be omitted unless explicitly required. Beyond introducing the background or motivation for the project, your information does not necessarily need to be in the order listed below—use a structure that progresses logically with smooth transitions between concepts and ideas in order to ensure audience clarity. Remember, the grading rubric is on Carmen. If the team is conflicted on whether to include a section, ask an instructor or project advisor for guidance.

Background/Motivation

This section answers “why should the reader be interested in this problem?” and sets the foundation for the rest of the problem identification section.

Research is about developing an understanding of the problem from a stakeholder perspective.  As part of this research you will likely need to conduct both primary and secondary research.

Primary Research (Conducting Interviews)

To conduct primary research, you will first need to decide who will need to be interviewed and understand their relationship to the project, product, etc. As a team you should:

  • Define stakeholders. Who is impacted by the results of this project and how/why? (do not include the obvious such as “members of the team are stakeholders because we are graded and care about the outcome of the project”)
  • Define stakeholder interview touch points and their significance to understanding the problem

Summarize the salient results of these interviews and include in the body of your Design Document (and put full details of the interviews in the Appendix). When deciding what to include in the body, consider what information adds value by providing the reader with a more thorough understanding of the problem and your solution approach.

Secondary Research

Secondary research is research done by reviewing literature/research conducted by others.  When incorporating secondary research, remember to document using APA or IEEE citation style (choose one style and stick with it throughout the report).

Research—whether primary or secondary—is the process of finding answers.  Good research starts with good questions. As you conduct the primary and/or secondary research necessary for your project, your team might use the below items as a starting place:

  • Do current alternate methods of solving this problem exist? If so, discuss them and identify gaps in those existing solutions. If not, discuss why there are no alternative solution methods.
  • Identify competitors and create competitive analysis chart (summarize takeaways in-text).
  • Define target market(s) and estimate financial impact of current problem.
  • Perform patent search (if applicable).
  • Define external products, processes, or systems that may interface or be used in conjunction with the product or processes
  • List constraints, required standards, and approvals.

Use your research to develop your problem identification and be sure the problem identification is clearly defined for your audience—with all important considerations captured—by the end of the chapter. Remember to incorporate your research as part of the narrative you are creating in this chapter. Remember, too, that this first chapter is the beginning of a more extensive report.

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Stage 2 in the Design Thinking Process: Define the Problem and Interpret the Results

An integral part of the Design Thinking process is the definition of a meaningful and actionable problem statement, which the design thinker will focus on solving. This is perhaps the most challenging part of the Design Thinking process, as the definition of a problem (also called a design challenge) will require you to synthesise your observations about your users from the first stage in the Design Thinking process, which is called the Empathise stage.

When you learn how to master the definition of your problem, problem statement, or design challenge, it will greatly improve your Design Thinking process and result. Why? A great definition of your problem statement will guide you and your team’s work and kick start the ideation process in the right direction. It will bring about clarity and focus to the design space. On the contrary, if you don’t pay enough attention to defining your problem, you will work like a person stumbling in the dark.

the problem solving model consists of problem identification solution design

In the Define stage you synthesise your observations about your users from the first stage, the Empathise stage. A great definition of your problem statement will guide you and your team’s work and kick start the ideation process (third stage) in the right direction. The five stages are not always sequential — they do not have to follow any specific order and they can often occur in parallel and be repeated iteratively. As such, the stages should be understood as different modes that contribute to a project, rather than sequential steps.

Analysis and Synthesis

the problem solving model consists of problem identification solution design

Before we go into what makes a great problem statement, it’s useful to first gain an understanding of the relationship between analysis and synthesis that many design thinkers will go through in their projects. Tim Brown, CEO of the international design consultancy firm IDEO, wrote in his book Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation , that analysis and synthesis are “equally important, and each plays an essential role in the process of creating options and making choices.”

Analysis is about breaking down complex concepts and problems into smaller, easier-to-understand constituents. We do that, for instance, during the first stage of the Design Thinking process, the Empathise stage, when we observe and document details that relate to our users. Synthesis , on the other hand, involves creatively piecing the puzzle together to form whole ideas. This happens during the Define stage when we organise, interpret, and make sense of the data we have gathered to create a problem statement.

Although analysis takes place during the Empathise stage and synthesis takes place during the Define stage, they do not only happen in the distinct stages of Design Thinking. In fact, analysis and synthesis often happen consecutively throughout all stages of the Design Thinking process. Design thinkers often analyse a situation before synthesising new insights, and then analyse their synthesised findings once more to create more detailed syntheses.

What Makes a Good Problem Statement?

A problem statement is important to a Design Thinking project, because it will guide you and your team and provides a focus on the specific needs that you have uncovered. It also creates a sense of possibility and optimism that allows team members to spark off ideas in the Ideation stage, which is the third and following stage in the Design Thinking process. A good problem statement should thus have the following traits. It should be:

Human-centered. This requires you to frame your problem statement according to specific users, their needs and the insights that your team has gained in the Empathise phase. The problem statement should be about the people the team is trying to help, rather than focusing on technology, monetary returns or product specifications.

Broad enough for creative freedom. This means that the problem statement should not focus too narrowly on a specific method regarding the implementation of the solution. The problem statement should also not list technical requirements, as this would unnecessarily restrict the team and prevent them from exploring areas that might bring unexpected value and insight to the project.

Narrow enough to make it manageable. On the other hand, a problem statement such as , “Improve the human condition,” is too broad and will likely cause team members to easily feel daunted. Problem statements should have sufficient constraints to make the project manageable.

As well as the three traits mentioned above, it also helps to begin the problem statement with a verb, such as “Create”, “Define”, and “Adapt”, to make the problem become more action-oriented.

How to Define a Problem Statement

Methods of interpreting results and findings from the observation oriented Empathise phase include:

Space Saturate and Group and Affinity Diagrams – Clustering and Bundling Ideas and Facts

the problem solving model consists of problem identification solution design

In space saturate and group, designers collate their observations and findings into one place, to create a collage of experiences, thoughts, insights, and stories. The term 'saturate' describes the way in which the entire team covers or saturates the display with their collective images, notes, observations, data, experiences, interviews, thoughts, insights, and stories in order to create a wall of information to inform the problem-defining process. It will then be possible to draw connections between these individual elements, or nodes, to connect the dots, and to develop new and deeper insights, which help define the problem(s) and develop potential solutions. In other words: go from analysis to synthesis.

Empathy Mapping

the problem solving model consists of problem identification solution design

An empathy map consists of four quadrants laid out on a board, paper or table, which reflect the four key traits that the users demonstrated/possessed during the observation stage. The four quadrants refer to what the users: Said , Did , Thought , and Felt . Determining what the users said and did are relatively easy; however, determining what they thought and felt is based on careful observation of how they behaved and responded to certain activities, suggestions, conversations etc. (including subtle cues such as body language displayed and the tone of voice used).

Empathy Map

Point Of View – Problem Statement

the problem solving model consists of problem identification solution design

A Point Of view (POV) is a meaningful and actionable problem statement, which will allow you to ideate in a goal-oriented manner. Your POV captures your design vision by defining the RIGHT challenge to address in the ideation sessions. A POV involves reframing a design challenge into an actionable problem statement. You articulate a POV by combining your knowledge about the user you are designing for, his or her needs and the insights which you’ve come to know in your research or Empathise mode. Your POV should be an actionable problem statement that will drive the rest of your design work.

You articulate a POV by combining these three elements – user, need, and insight. You can articulate your POV by inserting your information about your user, the needs and your insights in the following sentence:

[ User . . . (descriptive)] needs [ need . . . (verb)] because [ insight. . . (compelling)]

Point of View - Problem Statement

“How Might We” Questions

the problem solving model consists of problem identification solution design

When you’ve defined your design challenge in a POV, you can start to generate ideas to solve your design challenge. You can start using your POV by asking a specific question starting with: “ How Might We ” or “in what ways might we”. How Might We ( HMW ) questions are questions that have the potential to spark ideation sessions such as brainstorms. They should be broad enough for a wide range of solutions, but narrow enough that specific solutions can be created for them. “How Might We” questions should be based on the observations you’ve gathered in the Empathise stage of the Design Thinking process.

For example, you have observed that youths tend not to watch TV programs on the TV at home, some questions which can guide and spark your ideation session could be:

How might we make TV more social, so youths feel more engaged?

How might we enable TV programs to be watched anywhere, at anytime?

How might we make watching TV at home more exciting?

The HMW questions open up to Ideation sessions where you explore ideas, which can help you solve your design challenge in an innovative way.

How Might We Questions

Why-How Laddering

"As a general rule, asking 'why’ yields more abstract statements and asking 'how’yields specific statements. Often times abstract statements are more meaningful but not as directly actionable, and the opposite is true of more specific statements." – d.school, Method Card, Why-How Laddering

For this reason, during the Define stage designers seek to define the problem, and will generally ask why . Designers will use why to progress to the top of the so-called Why-How Ladder where the ultimate aim is to find out how you can solve one or more problems. Your How Might We questions will help you move from the Define stage and into the next stage in Design Thinking, the Ideation stage, where you start looking for specific innovative solutions. In other words you could say that the Why-How Laddering starts with asking Why to work out How they can solve the specific problem or design challenge.

What-How-Why Method

The Take Away

The second stage in a typical Design Thinking process is called the Define phase. It involves collating data from the observation stage (first stage called Empathise ) to define the design problems and challenges. By using methods for synthesising raw data into a meaningful and usable body of knowledge — such as empathy mapping and space saturate and group — we will be able to create an actionable design problem statement or Point of View that inspire the generation of ideas to solve it. The How Might We questions open up to Ideation sessions where you explore ideas, which can help you solve your design challenge in an innovative way.

References & Where to Learn More

Course: “Design Thinking - The Ultimate Guide” .

d.school: Space Saturation and Group .

d.school: Empathy Map .

d.school: “How might we” questions .

Hero Image: Author/Copyright holder: gdsteam. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY 2.0

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