Monday Design Tip: Don’t Just Recognize The Problem, Understand It
Posted ago by Baron
Unless it’s designed for entertainment, every product concept boils down to two main elements: the problem it’s trying to solve, and the way it’s trying to solve it. While finding and designing the solution is undoubtedly the hard part, designers will often jump to this stage prematurely, overlooking key aspects of the problem that may be crucial to the design process. Remember, a solution is only as compelling as the obstacle it’s addressing, so if you misunderstand the problem, or misjudge demand for a solution, no amount of research and design work will make the product a success.
In some cases, understanding the problem is as simple as defining your goals. Rather than saying “such-and-such process is hard, I’m going to make it easier”, take the time to identify those elements that you want to improve. Scores of inventors have tried to improve the process of brushing with a paste-dispensing toothbrush, but few actually examined what this feature would be doing. Consider: it takes all of two seconds to apply toothpaste to a toothbrush, and since integrated toothpaste would require frequent refilling, unclogging, and cleaning, the proposed solution actually seems more troublesome than the status quo. While there are many ways that the brushing process can be improved, this is decidedly not one of them, and recognizing that is half the battle.
In other cases, inventors will hear about a problem and immediately pursue a solution, without taking the time to determine how widespread or serious the problem really is. Quirky may love your design for a floating, waterproof iPad stand, along with your bath-crazed neighbor who inspired the idea, but we can’t manufacture and sell it without widespread demand from the consumer market.
Thus, if you’ve identified an intriguing problem, and would like to invent a solution, online research should be your first serious step. Friends and neighbors may sugar-coat their feedback to avoid awkwardness, but online communities will be much more honest and direct, so ask about the problem on specialized forums or message boards to see what the experts think (e.g. Home-Barista.com would be the go-to site for any coffee-related product). Not only will you get confirmation that the problem is valid, but you will also better understand the nuances and components of the problem itself, resulting in a more comprehensive, informed solution. Knowledge, after all, is power.