Focus on understanding the problem, not on the solution

Do you find yourself sitting with a client or at a team meeting where you discuss users' problems or needs and can immediately think of a perfect solution? 

Or does a client or product owner come to you with an idea to which a solution has already been devised, and you just need to fix it?

Today we will look at the pitfalls of these practices.


Michal Voják

Co-founder / userUP Leader

Sometimes, we come up with a solution to a user's problem without studying the problem in-depth, or a UX designer is given minimal space to think and design the solution properly. These actions often lead to greater difficulties than it may seem at the time.

Why not focus on only one solution that comes to our mind
We may choose the solution that is the simplest or best known for us at that moment. Unfortunately, this does not mean that it is optimal for the user and the product. There may be two, three, or four other solutions that did not occur to us initially, which may be more helpful to users with their problem.

Why avoid choosing the first solution

We might come up with a solution that seems brilliant in the beginning due to many factors.

1. Cognitive distortion

It is a mistake in thinking, decision-making, and other thought processes that creates misunderstandings of other people and situations.

There are many cognitive distortions. How can distortion interfere with our decisions?

  • The Confirmation Bias prioritizes information, opinions, or ideas that confirm our options.
  • The Choice Supportive Bias forces us to evaluate our previous choice well, even though this may not be the case. In addition, if we combine this with adding more value for the things we create ourselves, it can easily happen that we blindly fall in love with our solution. That can be a big problem. If we did not develop the optimal solution, it is difficult to move on. It is important to keep the distance from our own solutions.
  • The Anchoring Bias will make us cling to the first information we get on a given topic and believe in it even though it may not be relevant or true.
    These are only three examples of many others. Thanks to various distortions and their combination, different solutions can be proposed, and these might not solve the problems or needs of your users at all. Then the particular solution might be based on someone saying: "I, as a user, would do this or that."

Here, however, we begin to encounter a problem associated with cognitive bias and how we assess the information obtained and from whom we obtained it.

2. Social bubble

The social bubble we are in can also affect our attitude to solving problems. If we design a product for a target group, we must check how people think and work in it. If I or people around me do something, that doesn't mean that users of our product will do the same.

3. Deduction and induction

Another important factor is the way we approach our opinions. We can easily consider various things or solutions inductively, which can lead to an error that we do not see at the moment.

If induction is a new concept for you, let's take a closer look at it. 

First, it is necessary to explain the difference between deduction and induction. Thanks to deduction, we assess things according to general rules and find out specific cases. However, we will not detect new information during deduction. For example, Facebook is a social network. Social networks are used to connect people. 

On the contrary, induction goes from individual to general rules. Dominik is on Facebook, Lukas is on Facebook, so all my friends are on Facebook. This rule can apply until you come across Martin, who is not on Facebook. Thus, the inductive assessment is not 100%, and we should think about whether, in our case, the finding can be valid for 100% of people, or maybe only for 4%.

Is the first solution the right one?

One more thought at the end of this chapter. If you only have one solution that you fall in love with initially, you may simply be creating something that doesn't benefit users as much as another solution. What if your first solution is technologically complicated, expensive to develop, and there is another solution with the same or even greater benefit for users, which costs less?

Why focus on understanding the problem

The first thing is a detailed understanding of the problem. Albert Einstein said:

"If I had an hour to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions."

By truly understanding the nature of your users’ problem (often using user research for that problem), you will gain a wealth of information to develop various solutions that support your users' needs, issues, desires, or concerns.

When coming up with a solution, don't limit yourself to the numbers. Feel free to come up with as many as possible to choose the one that will benefit you later. In addition, involve more team members. 

Solutions can be diverse, completely different, or complementary. However, these must always be solutions for the users' problems.

From this list, you can start choosing those that will be most suitable for you at the moment.

Work with assumptions

It is always good to work with assumptions. When you think something is working, but you don't exactly know how, describe it as assumptions. And then try to verify it.

Firstly, it is not necessary to immediately propose a solution, but at least to organize the ideas of how to understand the given problem and what assumptions you perceive.

You can imagine the assumption as follows: Your users use your application five times a day or the users often use filters on your site. Begin to verify these assumptions. This will help to clarify the difference between what you know about the problem and what you don't know about the problem so that you can solve it.

How to assess solutions

It's good to look at it from three different perspectives:

Feasibility – most often technological complexity, or legal restrictions,
Viability – includes whether the solution is beneficial and functional for the product and thus for the company,
Desirability – whether the users want it.

DVF framework

Looking at the selected solutions from these three perspectives helps decide which solution to choose. Finally, you can create two simpler solutions that will be very easy to manufacture and help users quickly. Then you can start working on a third solution that will have a significant impact on users, but will take longer to create. Or maybe by creating these two simple solutions, you will see that there is no point in devoting more time to this problem, and you can start working on something else. 

Some designers may ask about the applicability of a given solution. The usability needs to be addressed subsequently for each solution you decide to develop further.

In conclusion

When creating new products, features, or various enhancements, it's always a good idea to think about the problem, need, or desire the users are solving when using the product or service. User research helps to understand user behavior.

To decide which solution might be optimal, create as many different solutions as possible. This will give you a chance to see the options to decide which path to take.

This procedure will help you reduce the likelihood that you will create something that users do not need. In addition, creation could cost a lot of money.


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About the author

Michal Voják

Co-founder / userUP Leader

Michal is a pioneer in product discovery! He is behind the idea of this tool.

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