How to Frame Your Design Challenge

Time to level up, gang.

In this post introducing design thinking and Human-Centered Design, we dove right into the first stage of Empathize. We talked about how to better understand the problems, needs, and opportunities of your intended beneficiaries with methods like those in IDEO’s DesignKit and by utilizing the Value Proposition Canvas.

Once you’ve immersed yourself in the experiences of your target market, you’ll probably have a lot of data. What do you do next?

Time to turn that raw data into information you can use to add value to those people’s lives.

In the Define stage of design thinking, you synthesize the observations about your users. Here are some great tools and strategies for synthesizing what you learned, as well as a video from IDEO on the process of framing your design challenge based on this information:

Defining your problem statement/design challenge is one of the most important steps of the entire design thinking process. It will guide your ideation process (stage 3) and will have major implications for the solutions you generate.

Ultimately, though, it’s important to note that the design thinking process is seldom linear. You’ll probably circle back on your ideas and re-frame your problem at least several times throughout the process as you test and iterate ideas.

Non-linear design thinking process

Once you’ve gone through all that information and refined your problem statement, I find it helpful to take a step back before moving forward again.

DIY created this great Problem Definition sheet that can help you see the bigger picture:


IDEO has this final advice:

“Now that you’ve run your challenge through these filters, do it again. It may seem repetitive, but the right question is key to arriving at a good solution. A quick test we often run on a design challenge is to see if we can come up with five possible solutions in just a few minutes. If so, you’re likely on the right track.”

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