Refining the Problem

Questions to ask and why they help

When I first started in UX, I acquiesced to shareholders a lot. I’d hear “make it better!” or “the experience needs to be more intuitive” or “simplify it!”, accept these terms as attainable goals, and start working — determined to fix any perceived problems. Frequently, however, these same phrases would recur in reference to the revised solution(s), without any defined meaning or discrete points of improvement.

It was incredibly frustrating.

Since phrases like “it needs to be intuitive” are inherently subjective, it becomes difficult to measure success of the design. Opinions are hard to pin down and examine objectively, and simply because an opinion exists does not mean to applies to all user sets. As it became increasingly apparent that simply “making it better” wasn't going to work, I wondered how to sidestep vague, subjective requests that were nearly impossible to achieve.

Since I wanted to sure that the stakeholders understood precisely what they wanted before I the project started, I began to ask them to help me complete the following for every project:

1. Create a problem statement

If a request is being made, most likely, a need has been identified. So, helping my stakeholders understand the why of a request by creating problem statements was a solid way to to uncover the real, underlying problem. Great problem statements define a problem (what, where, when) without suggesting a solution (why, how) and give you something concrete to solve.

2. Create goals

This is the “what do I want to happen” aspect. Generally, a well defined goal is a broad statements that has a meaningful outcome, is clearly written, and is achievable.

3. Define Measures.

In order to ascertain whether a design is succeeding, every goal should be measurable. Analytics allow you to track most everything that happens on your site so define appropriate actions, i.e. clicks or page views, that correspond to your goal.

Concrete ideas create actionable designs and without a solid project definition, the end result is up for subjective debate. These three small steps helped end my frustration as well as further include my stakeholders in the problem solving process.