The Fountain Institute

You are more than a problem solver.

Published over 1 year ago • 2 min read

Dear Reader,

"I'm a problem solver."

It's a common phrase on Junior UX Designers' Linkedin profiles.

It's a catchy little phrase that shows hiring managers that you can do more than "make stuff pretty."

Why do you never see this phrase on a Senior UX Designer's profile?

Problem-solving and solution-work is an easy place to start a design career, but at some point, you should do more than solve problems.

Understanding problems may not get as much airtime, but it's key to good solutions.

Too many solutions in this world aren't based on a real problem.

For example:
Take the Amazon Fire Phone. You may have forgot Amazon that tried to design a phone once. It had its own app store and lots of fancy 3d-rendering technology. This was Jeff Bezos' pet project, and he was sure it would be a success...but it was a total failure. The phone was a great solution to a non-existent problem. The Fire Phone a total failure that cost Amazon $170,000,000.

It takes skill to solve problems, but it takes experience to find and frame problems. Even companies like Amazon get it wrong, sometimes.

Problem-finding and problem-framing is a way to set yourself apart from the never-ending supply of design graduates ready to "solve problems" for anyone that will hire them.

Problem-focused skills are very strategic career skills for any ambitious designer.

Here are some ways to use these skills on product teams.

1. Finding Problems

Gather inputs for future design outputs.

Many companies naively think they can design great products through their own expertise. These companies might have great ideas, but they don't always check these ideas against the external.

A little bit of discovery can go a long way. It can save weeks of building the wrong thing.

It's really hard to find the time to talk to customers. What are some super-specific ways you can find problems when you're low on time?

Some specific ways to find problems:

  • Gather existing knowledge. Desk research whenever you can.
  • Get access to user data. Just ask your PM.
  • Observe the context. The setting alone can provide clarity.
  • Scope research into projects better. (try this UX Research Canvas for planning)

2. Framing Problems

Form clear and conquerable problems from customer data.

The way that problems are formed and articulated is extremely important in UX design. There is a power to the way that we talk about the problem we're trying to solve.

The common misconception with research is that we can stop discovery when we hear the same problem from a few customers. There is an entire phase after the interviews that most UX designers skip.

This missing phase after gathering research is all about examining the data more closely. In this phase, we break down what was said (analysis), and connect with the bigger concepts and ideas (synthesis). This phase is called design synthesis.

Design synthesis connects the research input (usually observed data on a customer) with the research output (often an early visual design such as a wireframe).

Some specific ways to frame problems:

  • Gather & edit insights. Do this throughout any research project.
  • Analyze & synthesize research data.Know the difference and do both. Take the time to work with data, not just gather it.
  • Create concise problem statements. Narrow down to the final problem through editing and collaboration (one of the most underrated skills in UX).
  • Use one of these 10 specific methods to frame problems.

You can be more than a problem solver.

Solving problems can be the gateway to more advanced work.

If you're only a problem solver, and you want to be more, check out this free course on UX research. It's a great way to get a start in problem-finding and framing.

Until next week!

Jeff Humble
Designer & Co-Founder
The Fountain Institute

P.S. We just announced December's meetup with Janko Jovanovic. The talk is Building Resilience in Your Design Career...See ya there?

The Fountain Institute

The Fountain Institute is an independent online school that teaches advanced UX & product skills.

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