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Introduction to design challenges

Introduction to UX design challenges

A design challenge is based on a problem that needs to be solved. A problem is an unmet need or desire that, when met, satisfies a user’s purpose. User research can help uncover these deep purposes, ultimately helping to identify the unmet need or want (the problem).

In the UX design process, you will use a problem statement to help you frame your design challenge. In simple terms, a problem statement articulates the problem you are trying to solve and helps you define the scope that will dictate your UX design project. This is an opportunity to use your critical thinking and problem-solving skills to identify the actual problem you are attempting to solve. But where do you start?

Identifying problem statements

A typical starting point is quite simple: ‘What problem are we solving for?’ You might start with the challenges, pain points or symptoms before organising, analysing and distilling those into a statement of the problem you’re attempting to solve.

When identifying problem statements, it’s essential to separate symptoms from the causes and to avoid approaching the problem with a preselected solution in mind. The goal is not to find a viable solution; your problem statement should simply identify an apparent, explicit problem.

For example, a design problem statement might be: ‘Newly remote workers need a way to feel connected because they spend a lot of time at home by themselves and end up feeling alone and isolated.’ To solve this problem, a design team might come up with an app that promotes collaboration and enables connection. The problem statement guides the team in identifying requirements and evaluating potential features in a meaningful way while also considering differentiation.

Problem statements should be narrow enough to provide clarity and focus yet broad enough to promote creativity and innovation.

Frame your design challenge

Framing the design challenge provides clarity for the team on what to focus on when proposing ideas, ensuring that the ideas align to the problem that needs to be solved.

To see how this works in practice, we’ll expand on the problem statement regarding remote workers feeling disconnected and follow a step-by-step approach to frame the design for this challenge.

Step 1: Rewrite the problem statement as a question

Ensure that it’s brief and easy to remember – a single sentence that can lead you onward is a good way to start. Phrasing this as a ‘how might we’ question sets you and your team up to be solution-oriented and to generate lots of ideas.

For example:

  • How might we help remote workers feel connected to each other?

Step 2: Identify the key outcome of the solution

Now, it’s time to explore the business and user goals and align on the outcome your solution hopes to achieve. Doing this now helps you, your team, and other stakeholders share a vision of success.

For example:

  • Employees work in pre-existing autonomous teams, but they also used to benefit from contact with colleagues from other teams while in the office. Our solution should help remote employees to feel connected to each other and to the wider company.

Step 3: Identify your context and constraints

Failing to identify your context and constraints appropriately is a common pitfall. An overly narrow challenge won’t allow you enough room to explore creative solutions, and an overly broad challenge won’t give you many ideas to start from.

In our example, the context and constraints could include the following:

  • Existing communication tools are set up to handle communication within teams, not across teams.
  • Some new employees began as remote workers, and many of them feel too shy to reach out to colleagues who are essentially strangers.

Step 4: Brainstorm possible solutions

Asking the right questions is the key to iterating an excellent solution. Spend time on brainstorming activities that ask questions that your users might have. To check you’re on the right track, run a brief and straightforward test by seeing whether you can find rapid solutions in just a few minutes.

  • What if remote workers could meet face-to-face on a monthly or weekly basis?
  • What if the business could add extra company-wide communication channels to their tools?
  • What if an app could randomly assign employees to talk to each other every week?

Step 5: Refine your original question

Does your original ‘how might we’ question still work? Is it too broad or too narrow? Refine it now to ensure you can answer it with a solution.

For example: ‘How might we connect employees with each other in a way that replicates the spontaneous and authentic interactions that they used to have?’

This final, refined question is your framed design challenge.

You now understand that framing a design challenge helps you to articulate the problem and define a scope for it. The activity coming up next will guide you through the process of framing your own design challenge.

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Introduction to UX Design

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