Understanding Design Thinking Part 2: Define Your Why


This article is the second in a series on the Design Thinking Method. For part 1 of the series, read on here. The Design Thinking Method is an iterative process used by many of the most innovative companies and organizations. It consists of 5 stages:

  1. Empathize
  2. Define
  3. Ideate
  4. Prototype
  5. Test

It can be visualized like this:

Design Thinking: Define

In this article, we dive into the first stage of the process: Define.

Define: The What, Why and How

The second phase of the Design Thinking process is to define. In this stage, the aim is to synthesize your findings from the empathize phase. Then, on the basis of that, you can write down your problem statement. Your problem statement, or your design challenge, will guide you throughout the rest of your design process. It’s crucial to know which problem you’re trying to solve. You probably had an initial idea of which problem area interested you, but now it’s time to define it clearly and concisely.

Knowing what you’re working on isn’t just important for your project, but also for your team. Having a shared vision and a shared purpose will help you all stick together, even when things get rough.

Define User Personas

As a first step towards your problem statement, it can be useful to create user personas for your target group. A persona is a fictional character that represents archetypes from your target audience. Creating personas will help you understand the most essential aspects, motivations, interests, and fears of your target group. Even though the characters you’re creating are completely fictional, they’re of course based on the data you’ve collected through your user research. However, in order to create your characters, you have to make a lot of assumptions that might be faulty. There is no way around it, but keep it in mind.

You can make your personas in different ways. You should, however, cover a few basic areas, such as:

  1. basic description: Name, age, home, professional life, etc.
  2. interests & values: What is important to them? What do they like to do in their spare time? What career path do they want to follow?
  3. analogue vs. digital: Which gadgets do they use? How familiar are they with them? How is their relationship to them?
  4. daily life: What activities usually shape their day?
  5. future goals: How do they hope their future looks? Which dreams do they have? Which visions?
  6. struggles & challenges: What challenges are they facing?

This should give you an approximate idea of who they are as characters. You can add lots of additional information if you like: What magazines and books they read, which political ideology they support, whether they’re religious, etc.

When creating personas, create at least 5 for your target group – perhaps make one of them an extreme case (one of those you identified in the previous stage), and otherwise explore different archetypes of your target group. Who is struggling with the problem you have identified? What kind of people are they?

If you want, you can even take this one step further, and turn it into a role-playing exercise. Each team member can select a persona and try to impersonate them while the rest of the team interviews them. This will really place you in the shoes of your users, and it’s probably also lots of fun. Give it a try!

Define Your Problem Statement

Creating your problem statement is the next step in your define journey. Once you know your users in and out, you are able to define what problem connects them and how you come into the picture. As said, a clear and concise problem statement is crucial for the rest of your design process. It will guide all your further choices and considerations as you make your way towards your end product.

Probably you already have a basic sort of problem statement – something that helped you identify which users to observe, interview, and personify. Now it’s time to narrow that general problem statement down into something concrete.

A good problem statement possesses 3 basic qualities:

  1. Human centered: The most important characteristics of the Design Thinking method is its focus on humans. That’s why the process begins with empathizing and ends with testing. If it doesn’t work for the end-user, so the method argues, then it won’t work at all. So when you’re creating your problem statement, frame it according to specific users – exactly those people whose lives you want to improve.
  2. Broad enough for creative freedom: Don’t try to make your problem statement down to fit to your initial solution. That means not narrowing it down to a technology or a method for solving the issue. Frame it so it focuses on the problem and opens up for a broad array of solutions.
  3. Narrow enough to be manageable: However, you shouldn’t make it so fuzzy and general that you don’t know where to begin or end. It should be actionable and concrete enough, so that it is manageable.

From Analysis to Synthesis

In the previous stage, you conducted user research, i.e. you analyzed your target group. To find the key findings of that research, it’s time to synthesize your observations. You can for example do this by mapping your observations in this grid:

Design Thinking: Define

Knowing what your users thought or felt may be difficult, but make the best guess you can. Once you’ve filled out the grid and have had another look at your personas, you are ready to try filling out the blanks in this statement:

[User . . . (descriptive)] needs [need . . . (verb)] because [insight. . . (compelling)]

You can always adapt it a bit later on, but this should give you a firm foundation to head onto the next stage: Ideate. We’ll look at that in the next article.

Until then, try it out – try defining your problem statement and your target group.

Enjoyed reading this article? Ever invited a pirate for a coffee? Now’s your chance.

Tagged as define, design thinking, entrepreneurship, problem solving

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