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. Continue reading How to Frame Your Design Challenge

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Design Thinking + Human-Centered Design Toolkit

It’s hard to turn a corner in the world of social innovation and entrepreneurship without hearing about the design thinking process. If you’re thinking about creating a start-up, product, service, or anything really, this process can be a game-changer.

For the uninitiated, here’s a quick overview:

What is design thinking, exactly?

Design thinking is a process for innovating solutions to problems. It’s a methodology for creative action that begins with learning directly from the people you’re designing for, identifying opportunities, and prototyping possible solutions for feedback, and then bringing viable solutions to market.

designthinkinggraphic-900x465

Within the steps of Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test, practitioners can identify the right problems, ask appropriate questions, generate more ideas, and select the best answers. Stanford’s d.school offers a free 90-minute virtual crash course on this methodology.

Designing for humans

In 2009, IDEO launched the Human-Centered Design Toolkit, which provides tools, methods, and guidance on the design thinking process for innovators who are designing for human beings. Which, technically, should be all innovators.

They broke the design thinking process into three phases: Continue reading Design Thinking + Human-Centered Design Toolkit

How to Pick the Right Problem

In the first post about how to undertake social innovation (“Start Here.“), I wrote about the importance of starting with a problem, as opposed to jumping right in with a solution. Why is this the case?

Many projects intended to help people have failed in spectacular ways. Click here to learn more about failed aid projects (there are many). These initiatives frequently fail because they rest on assumptions about the people they’re supposedly helping. Even if the project is carried out as intended, if the base assumptions are wrong, then the project can have major unintended consequences.

To avoid these kinds of blunders, it’s best to be conscientious about selecting the right problems to address. But with so many worthwhile problems to address in the world, how do you pick one?

While a great deal of the guidance out there will tell you what to do once you know the issue that you’ll be addressing, there’s not a whole lot out there that explains how to narrow down the field of options to a problem that’s really worth your time. This may seem like an obvious selection to some of you out there (“Just pick one!” you might say), but here’s a little known secret: the problem you focus on will ultimately determine your level of success.

A well-defined problem often contains its own solution within it and the innovators who are truly taking things to the next level are the ones who are identifying those well-defined problems. The following resources will help you to be one of those innovators.

The Success Quadrant from Tools for Social Innovators

The chart above can help you prioritize issue areas by those that have high social and financial impacts (you want to make a difference and be able to financially sustain your efforts) and that also play to your strengths. For example, if I’m interested in addressing climate change on some level, I should start brainstorming ways in which I can use my unique skills and strengths to make a difference. It would be harder for me to go back to school to become a scientist, but maybe I could help in a communications or policy role. Of course, if I really want to become a scientist, that’s allowed—you can always build upon your skills and strengths. Brainstorming in this way can be helpful for identifying issue areas that make sense to pursue further.

Asking the right questions can also help to lead to the right problems. Here are some questions that can help the process of problem selection:

  • What specific problem are you interested in addressing?
  • Why is the problem important to you?
  • What stakeholders are affected by the problem or might be affected by its solution?
  • Who are your intended beneficiaries?
  • What has been done to address the problem already? Are there gaps?
  • What would the ideal world be in the absence of the problem?

When you’re looking into problems, you’ll most likely want to better understand the root cause of the problem, as opposed to focusing on symptoms of the problem. To get to root causes of problems, Toyota famously created the “Five Why’s” technique in the chart below for their Six Sigma process improvement program. You can use as many why’s as you need to get to the source problem, so don’t feel limited to five.

Five Whys Template

Once you have an idea of the field you want to go into, then utilizing the design thinking process is a great next step. I’ll talk more about the design thinking process in the next innovation post, but, overall, it has five stages: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test. Within that first step of Empathize, you’ll embed yourself in the world of the problem to discover key insights from those who are affected by the problem. These stages will help you further refine the problem, ask the right questions, develop more ideas, and select the best solutions.