Notes on Whitney Hess’ What’s Your Problem? Putting Purpose Back into Your Projects

From Whitney’s blog, 10-18-12, link here.


Design is both problem and solution; to create the right solution, you have to be working on the right problem.

3 principles of problem solving:

  1. Process: Define the problem before trying to solve it.
  2. People: Ask questions to find the deepest truth
  3. Be obsessed with the problem, not the solution

Before asking how to build, ask what is the right thing to build. This is problem setting.

You need 2 conditions to successfully solve a UX problem:

  1. A gap between the desired state and the current state
  2. A problem owner who wants to fix it. (I find this is frequently an issue: the problem owner wants to solve their own personal problem instead of a user’s problem)

The problem is out there, Get Out Of The Building and talk to people! Try one-on-one:

  • Interviews
  • Observations
  • Surveys (though these can be done online also)
  • Card sorts
  • Diary Studies

Another of my personal problems: business leaders think market research/focus groups and user research/testing are the same thing. But:

  • Market research > what people like
  • User research > what people do

(Here Whitney goes into a section about how to conduct user interviews that I won’t summarize here—her link to a full post about it is here.)

There are forms of user research that don’t rely on users being in the room:

Create concise, specific and measurable problem statements: Who needs what because why.  Then get the team to agree on these and let them lead the design and dev process.

Or try the 5 Ws–who? what? when? where? why? (and maybe, how?)

Be a good listener! It requires:

  • Listening (not just hearing)
  • Empathy
  • Facilitation
  • Persuasion
  • Patience

What’s your problem? What’s your purpose? Life’s too short to run down the wrong path–for your or your org or YOUR USERS!

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