Design thinking: defining the problem statement

Design Thinking

Learn the 5 phases of this problem-solving methodology and switch from technology-centered to user-centered thinking.

You finally got the go ahead for a new project. You can’t wait to get started and shoot for the moon—but hang on there, space cowboy.

Before you set off on your voyage of design, you’ll need a guiding star. In design thinking, a problem statement is your guide that will keep you on track. That way, when you’re floating off into blank-page-space, you have a tether to keep you grounded.

In the second stage of the design thinking process, you’ll need to define the problem your users are experiencing. This is accomplished through analysis and synthesis of the user data collected at the first stage (empathy), and then condensed into a digestible summary.

Design Thinking

Learn the 5 phases of this problem-solving methodology and switch from technology-centered to user-centered thinking.

3 concepts in a problem statement

What is a problem statement?

A problem statement is a clear explanation of your user’s pain points, and the actionable issue that must be solved. It identifies the gap between what is currently available on the market and what the user would like to have—think of how smart TVs meant no more wrestling with a bundle of cables.

An effective problem statement is like an elevator pitch. It’s concise (one or two sentences) but contains all vital information necessary to guide the product designers.

What should a problem statement include?

An actionable problem statement for design thinking should act as a springboard to creative ideas. It should also be aligned with three main concepts, which include:

A user-centered vision: Never forget who you are designing for. It’s easy to get distracted by the latest tech or what’s currently fashionable, but remember, your product must work for its target audience.

An open approach to possibilities: Product design is almost never a linear process. Even the smoothest journey from conception to creation will have a few bumps along the road. Don’t paint yourself into a corner. Leave room to experiment with different ideas.

Focus on the goal: Once the creative juices are flowing, some wild suggestions will get thrown around. They may be fun, but are they practical? Set clear guidelines to ensure that whatever you come up with will still meet the user requirements.

Getting Started: The Problem Statement Template

A problem statement template that works in most scenarios will answer the following questions:

  • What is the problem?
  • Who is having this problem?
  • Where/When does this problem take place?
  • Why does this problem need to be solved?

Problem statement examples

If you’re still battling with writer’s block, have a look at the following problem statements. Try to identify what makes them work (or not).

  • Make fresh produce easily accessible.

While this problem statement has good intentions, it doesn’t give designers the details they need to get started.

  • The lack of access to affordable and fresh produce in urban areas is leading to an increase in obesity rates, heart disease, and nutritional deficiencies for residents.

Here you have a clear idea of who the user is, the issue, why a solution is needed, and where it takes place.

  • People in offices need small, individual pods to make video calls.

This problem statement proposes a solution before the designers have had a chance to brainstorm some ideas. In design thinking, it’s important to keep options as open as possible.

  • Employees need an in-office space to take video calls so that they will not disturb or be disturbed by nearby coworkers.

This is a relatable issue that transcends both rural and urban settings. Therefore, in this case, the geographic location is simply an office.

Remember that the problem statement you come up with is not set in stone. If you propose a goal that you later realize isn’t clear enough, or is missing an important element, you can go back and make some tweaks.

The experience of product design is as challenging as it is rewarding. It’s completely normal to take a few swings before you hit it out of the park (or galaxy).

Problem statement examples

Share your problem statement and ask for feedback.

After multiple iterations, you’ve crafted the perfect problem statement (or, at least, you think you have). Before calling it a day, take a step back and evaluate your work.

To make sure you’ve hit all the necessary points and have given yourself a clear direction to solve the user’s problem, share your statement with someone else. A perfect problem statement should be easily understood by anyone—so don’t be shy to ask people outside of your team who don’t have any background knowledge on the project.

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