What does it mean to define the problem space?
Defining the problem space is the second phase of the design thinking process within the context of HCD; it, together with empathy, falls under the inspiration phase . This step attempts to understand the problem holistically based on data from the empathize phase and frames the scope within which this problem exists for your given set of users by gleaning off insights and needs from user research .
Why is it important?
As designers, we often have innate biases that can influence the design of our solutions, leaving us unable to create delightful products that are useful to the end-users we are designing for. Actively participating in defining the problem space allows us to avoid this because our sole goal at this stage is to interpret data as is it, void of any internal biases. We are forced to embrace ambiguity and go in with the mindset of investigators seeking to get to the bottom of the matter.
This, in turn, does the following :
- Inform us how well we have empathized with our users and if there is a need to collect more data.
- It gives a solid foundation upon which ideation can occur.
- Create problem statements that are aligned with the lived experiences of our users.
How do we get to the bottom of the matter ( 3 Steps to define the problem space)?
1.Clarifying the Problem
Aim to understand the needs of your users in as granular a manner as possible this is the first step in the design thinking process called empathy. In this step we aim to understand the feelings, needs and pain points of the users we are designing for .We drop our assumptions and perform user research which will later be analysed to gain actionable insights . You will have to observe ,engage and immerse yourself in the experience to do this effectively.
Methods of gathering data:
- Root cause analysis (5 whys )
|Problem: Patients don’t attend their doctor’s appointment|
Why? → Because patients don’t know the appointment time
Why? → Because the appointment message doesn’t alert them before the session
Why? → Because the messages don’t have an alert feature
Why? → Because the system does not link patients to their doctors.
Why? → Because the system does not have a personalised page.
The process of 5 whys is effective because it can often lead us to the unexpected cause of the problem by systematically breaking down all the symptoms till we reach the smallest unit (the root problem) . By using this method we are guaranteed that we will resolve all the issues in totality and not have problems occurring at other levels when a solution is implemented.
Some other methods include:
- User journal
- Secondary research
To define the problem space, we need to take an analytical look at our data. During the empathize phase, you might have collected some quantitative and qualitative data via interviews, surveys, shadowing, bodystorming(a way of subjecting a researcher’s own body to physically experience a situation to ideate), user journals, in the case of web platforms, heat maps, etc.
Collate this data and analyze it by drawing graphs based on it, performing sentiment analysis on the interviews, and employing as many analytical tools as possible to distil the information and uncover insights.
Ultimately, by analyzing the problem from a data standpoint, you not only uncover insights, but you can also validate the problem and understand how pressing it is for your users.
These analyses are visually summarised using graphs, user personas, etc.
User Personas seek to answer who your users are (demographic data), their motivations, their needs, and what barriers they face in attaining their goals. It is essential to create these personas based on factual information you have gathered to ensure accuracy in the definition of your problem and, consequently, the design of your solution.
3.The end goal (Problem statement)
Ultimately, the goal of the definition stage is to define the problem accurately and then frame the design challenge, which is done via a problem statement. A problem statement aims to summarise key aspects of the problem and word the issue in a way that is actionable by answering the five W’s :
- Who experiences the problem?
- What exactly is the problem?
- When did/is the problem taking place?
- Where do we see this problem manifesting?
- Why is this a problem, or why does this matter?
Example: Using the same patients – doctor problem
“Patients who book hospital services online need to connect with their doctors because they are often left unaware of appointments and miss them.”
Who experiences it? → Patients who book hospital services online
What is the problem? → Patients are unaware of appointments
Where? → Online
When? → on days of appointments
Why? → They miss appointments
”Chapter 17. Analyzing Community Problems and Solutions | Section 3. Defining and Analyzing the Problem | Main Section | Community Tool Box”, Ctb.ku.edu, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://ctb.ku.edu/en/table-of-contents/analyze/analyze-community-problems-and-solutions/define-analyze-problem/main.[Accessed: 06- Oct- 2021].
”Defining the problem | SMILE”, Gcu.ac.uk, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://www.gcu.ac.uk/library/smile/beingastudent/problemsolving/definingtheproblem/.[Accessed: 06- Oct- 2021].
”Design Thinking: Empathise,” YouTube, Mindful Marks, 2018.[Video file]. Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q654-kmF3Pc. [Accessed: 06- Oct- 2021].
”Design Thinking: Define,” YouTube, Mindful Marks, 2018.[Video file]. Available: https://youtu.be/TNAdanuvwtc. [Accessed: 06- Oct- 2021].
”Validating our Problem Statement and Hypothesis”, Alearningaday.blog, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://alearningaday.blog/2020/09/21/validating-our-problem-statement-and-hypothesis/.[Accessed: 06- Oct- 2021].
”Validate the Problem Before you Validate Your Idea”, Simpleweb, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://simpleweb.co.uk/validate-the-problem-before-you-validate-your-idea/.[Accessed: 06- Oct- 2021].
”Design Kit”, Designkit.org, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://www.designkit.org/methods/frame-your-design-challenge.[Accessed: 06- Oct- 2021].