Illustration by Frits Ahlefeldt of the HikingArtist

If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail. — Abraham Maslow

Suppose you are the designer of a software company that builds a video interviewing software application. Hiring teams of small to large companies use it to save time in interviewing candidates. Their process has greatly improved but new problems arise when using your app. They want to put labels to the candidates they want to group together, they want have an ability to tag a candidate to specific skill sets, they want to share these candidates to other reviewers for second opinion and a whole lot more of suggestions, features and perceived solutions to all their problems.

Do you need to a solution to all those problems?

The hammer is a representation where you only use one method or strategy to solve a problem while the nail represents the analogy to the problem. A good example is when building a house. If the hammer is your only tool, you’ll never get your house built. The same when a designer is designing the app features. You are presented with different problems from users and if your only method of determining a solution is based from their feedback and suggestion, you’ll have a never-ending list of feature suggestions.

Is it bad to design a solution for all? Are their feedback and suggestion not valid?

Our goal as designers is to solve the problems of our users. However, if we rely only on what every user tells us, we will be building too many designs for features that would make our application complex and hard to maintain. Not only that, we will be dedicating more dev resources to implement it all.

How do I know what to design?

First, embrace different “tools” in your design process. Conduct some research, create competitor analysis, interview your users, create low-fidelity prototypes, test your initial prototype designs for your users. These are just some of the many methods that a designer can do to improve on how to tackle design problems.

Are the problems your users tell you exactly the real “problem” they face?

Oftentimes, we are fast to define our users’ problem. They tell us their problem, we conclude that it is the problem we are trying to solve. Are their feedback and suggestion the only way to understand their problem? Listen and understand what they tell you and figure out what is causing their problems. Is there a common denominator that causes that problem? Is there a root cause?

Useful guidelines to understand the problem:

  1. Do not define the problem immediately. Listen to your users. Gather as many information first by getting some context on what their perceived problems are in the process. It is easy to get distracted by the different problems they will share with you. We don’t want to create many solutions to their many problems. As much as possible, we want a solution that fits all their common problems.
  2. Define the “real” problem. After you have gathered enough information, you can now define what the real problem is. The underlying insights on what they believe is their problem. This way, you are solving their common problems with one novel solution. You are helping your team develop the features based on insightful design process.
  3. Start with low-fidelity to high-fidelity wireframes. It is better to start with pen and paper sketches because it gives a sense that it is still an ongoing brainstorming process. Once you have made the right approach, move forward with producing high-fidelity such as mockups or prototypes. Choosing which as an output depends on the team and the capacity. Explore different tools that make your thinking process more effective.
  4. Show it to your users. Show it to a few users and get their feedback. A walkthrough is helpful. Use different methods to user test your designs. Never stick to only one approach or you’ll miss getting feedback from other users outside your comfort zone.
  5. Iterate. It is important for you to accept criticism. The goal of the designer is to arrive at the best solution that most of your users understand. The only way to achieve that is to show it to your users, gather as many feedback, suggestions as possible direct to your users.

your problem-solving in design takes time so always practice, improve and explore different ways. When you are armed with different tools under your belt, exploring design solutions is a worthwhile activity to improve as a designer.



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