The 5 Stages in the Design Thinking Process
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Problem statements are concise descriptions of design problems. Design teams use them to define the current and ideal states, and to freely find user-centered solutions. Then, they use these statements—also called points of view (POVs)—as reference points throughout a project to measure the relevance of ideas they produce.
“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”
— Albert Einstein
Well-constructed, valid and effective problem statements are vital for your design team to navigate the entire design process. Essential to design thinking, problem statements are what teams produce in the Define stage. To find the best solutions, your team must know what the exact problems are—i.e., you first need to define a problem statement.
The goal is to articulate the problem so everyone can see its dimensions and feel inspired to systematically hunt for suitable solutions. When you unite around a problem statement, your team will have a common view of how users see what they must tackle. From there, all your team will know exactly what to look for and what to avoid. Therefore, you should make your problem statements:
Human-centered: Frame problem statements from insights about users and their needs.
Have the right scope:
Broad enough to permit creative freedom, so you don’t concentrate too narrowly on specific methods for implementing solutions or describing technical needs; but
Narrow enough to be practicable, so you can eventually find specific solutions.
Based on an action-oriented verb (e.g., “create” or “adapt”).
Fully developed and assumption-free.
Design teams sometimes refer to a problem statement as a “point of view” (POV) because they should word problem statements from the users’ perspective and not let bias influence them. Your team will have a POV when it comes up with a narrowly focused definition of the right challenge to pursue in the next stage of the design process.
With an effective POV, your team can approach the right problem in the right way. Therefore, you’ll be able to seek the solutions your users want.
To define a problem statement, your team must first examine recorded observations about users. You must capture your users’ exact profile in the problem statement or POV. So, you need to synthesize research results and produce insights that form solid foundations. From these, you can discover what those specific users really require and desire—and therefore ideate effectively.
Teams typically use a POV Madlib to reframe the challenge meaningfully into an actionable problem statement. The POV madlib is a framework you use to place the user, need and insight in the best way. This is the format to follow:
[User… (descriptive)] needs [need … (verb)] because [insight… (compelling).]
You articulate a POV by combining these three elements—user, need, and insight—as an actionable problem statement that will drive the rest of your design work. Find an example below.
With a valid problem statement, your team can explore the framed “why” questions with “how”-oriented ones. That’s how you proceed to find potential solutions. You’ll know you have a good problem statement if team members:
Have the criteria to evaluate ideas.
Can use it to guide innovation efforts.
Can’t find a cause or a proposed solution in it (which would otherwise get in the way of proper ideation).
When your team has a good problem statement, everyone can compare ideas, which is vital in brainstorming and other ideation sessions. It also means everyone can keep on the right track. Problem statements are powerful aids because they encourage well-channeled divergent thinking.
Rather than rush toward solutions that look impressive but aren’t effective, your team can work imaginatively to find the right ones. Once you’ve discovered what’s causing problems, you can give users the best solutions in designs they like using.
Take our course addressing problem statements.
See d.school’s illustrations of problem statements in action.
Explore Toptal’s example-rich examination of problem statements.
This piece exposes the practicalities of problem statements for startups.
Here’s a thought-provoking approach to problem statements.
Here’s the entire UX literature on Problem Statements by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:
Take a deep dive into Problem Statements with our course Design Thinking: The Ultimate Guide .
Some of the world’s leading brands, such as Apple, Google, Samsung, and General Electric, have rapidly adopted the design thinking approach, and design thinking is being taught at leading universities around the world, including Stanford d.school, Harvard, and MIT. What is design thinking, and why is it so popular and effective?
Design Thinking is not exclusive to designers—all great innovators in literature, art, music, science, engineering and business have practiced it. So, why call it Design Thinking? Well, that’s because design work processes help us systematically extract, teach, learn and apply human-centered techniques to solve problems in a creative and innovative way—in our designs, businesses, countries and lives. And that’s what makes it so special.
The overall goal of this design thinking course is to help you design better products, services, processes, strategies, spaces, architecture, and experiences. Design thinking helps you and your team develop practical and innovative solutions for your problems. It is a human-focused, prototype-driven, innovative design process. Through this course, you will develop a solid understanding of the fundamental phases and methods in design thinking, and you will learn how to implement your newfound knowledge in your professional work life. We will give you lots of examples; we will go into case studies, videos, and other useful material, all of which will help you dive further into design thinking. In fact, this course also includes exclusive video content that we've produced in partnership with design leaders like Alan Dix, William Hudson and Frank Spillers!
This course contains a series of practical exercises that build on one another to create a complete design thinking project. The exercises are optional, but you’ll get invaluable hands-on experience with the methods you encounter in this course if you complete them, because they will teach you to take your first steps as a design thinking practitioner. What’s equally important is you can use your work as a case study for your portfolio to showcase your abilities to future employers! A portfolio is essential if you want to step into or move ahead in a career in the world of human-centered design.
Design thinking methods and strategies belong at every level of the design process. However, design thinking is not an exclusive property of designers—all great innovators in literature, art, music, science, engineering, and business have practiced it. What’s special about design thinking is that designers and designers’ work processes can help us systematically extract, teach, learn, and apply these human-centered techniques in solving problems in a creative and innovative way—in our designs, in our businesses, in our countries, and in our lives.
That means that design thinking is not only for designers but also for creative employees, freelancers, and business leaders. It’s for anyone who seeks to infuse an approach to innovation that is powerful, effective and broadly accessible, one that can be integrated into every level of an organization, product, or service so as to drive new alternatives for businesses and society.
You earn a verifiable and industry-trusted Course Certificate once you complete the course. You can highlight them on your resume, CV, LinkedIn profile or your website.
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