A problem statement identifies the gap between the current state (i.e. the problem) and the desired state (i.e. the goal) of a process, service or product. Within the design context, you can think of the user problem as an unmet need. By designing a solution that meets this need, you can satisfy the user and ensure a pleasant user experience.
A problem statement frames this problem (or need) in a way that is actionable for designers. It provides a clear description of the issue that the designer seeks to address, keeping the focus on the user at all times.
Why is it used?
Problem statements can take various formats, but the end goal is always the same: to guide the design team towards a feasible solution.
When is it helpful?
A good problem statement is human-centered and user-focused. Based on the insights you gathered in the empathize phase, it focuses on the users and their needs—not on product specifications or business outcomes. Here are some pointers that will help you create a meaningful problem statement: Focus on the user: The user and their needs should be front and center of your problem statement. Avoid statements that start with “we need to…” or “the product should”, instead concentrating on the user’s perspective: “Young working professionals need…”, as in the examples above.
Keep it broad: A good problem statement leaves room for innovation and creative freedom. It’s important to keep it broad enough to invite a range of different ideas; avoid any references to specific solutions or technical requirements, for example.
Make it manageable: At the same time, your problem statement should guide you and provide direction. If it’s too broad in terms of the user’s needs and goals, you’ll struggle to hone in on a suitable solution. So, don’t try to address too many user needs in one problem statement; prioritize and frame your problem accordingly.
How is it applied?
Asking the right questions will help you put your finger on the right problem statement. With all your findings from the empathize phase in one place, ask yourself the four Ws: Who, what, where, and why?
Who is experiencing the problem? In other words, who is your target user; who will be the focus of your problem statement? What is the problem? Based on the observations you made during the empathize phase, what are the problems and pain-points that frequently came up? What task is the user trying to accomplish, and what’s standing in their way? Where does the problem present itself? In what space (physical or digital), situation or context is the user when they face this problem? Are there any other people involved? Why does it matter? Why is it important that this problem be solved? What value would a solution bring to the user, and to the business? Approaching your observations with these four questions in mind will help you to identify patterns within your user research. In identifying the most prevalent issues, you’ll be one step closer to formulating a meaningful problem statement.
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