Best Practices

Real processes that work: user-centered problem solving

February 26, 2021

At the center of every problem is a real person or group of people experiencing a pain point. As builders, how then can we ensure that we are designing solutions with the user(s) and their pain point(s) in mind from the very start? 

Rooted in human-centered design principles, the following user-centered approach is a simplified process that can be applied to solving challenging problems across product, design, strategy, operations, and more. Whether building something new for customers or improving internal operations and employee experience, this approach has proven to flexibly and rapidly facilitate transforming research into tangible prototypes for the people who will be most impacted - the users.

Ready to get started? Follow the steps below. If you get stuck along the way, refer back to the problem statement to ground yourself in the why. This will also help keep you in scope and on task. Lastly, make this process work for YOU. While the order does matter in many use cases (i.e. product development), each step is also designed to be used independently as needed. So pull it apart, piece it together, or run through from start to finish over a 2, 4, 6, or 12 week sprint, however this adds value for you and your team.

User-centered problem solving framework

1. Clearly articulate the problem area or pain point 

What is the problem you are trying to solve? Draft a concise statement (up to 5 sentences) and keep it somewhere you can easily reference.

2. Market research

The more context you have on the problem area you are trying to solve, the better you will understand the market and ask the right questions of your user later on.

  • Hint: Focus on historical data, trends, innovation. Be sure to include quantitative data. Consider using a simple spreadsheet to organize your sources and capture information

3. Analyze & Synthesize I: Turn research into something meaningful

Make the time to both analyze and synthesize your research in order to make sense of the data. This will help you discover insights beyond the pure facts.

  • Hint: Consider using Post It notes or a virtual whiteboard to pull out key ideas from your research and sort them into themes and patterns

4. Define your audience

Now, identify and consider your users. This will allow you to create solutions that better support your users needs, beliefs, values, attitudes, and habits. Think about your user in context of their ecosystem to help you empathize and ask the right questions during user research.

  • Hint: Start by asking yourself: whose life am I aiming to improve? Once you have identified that answer, ask: what do I know about this user’s needs? Who are the stakeholders in this user’s life and how do those people impact the way in which the user engages with the world?

5. User Research: Fieldwork

Prepare a standardized set of questions that will draw out rich responses from potential users. Recruit users to speak with by seeking out people who can bring different points of view to the problem you are trying to solve. While interviews are the most direct way to learn from your user, written surveys can do the job as well.

  • Hint: Avoid leading questions. Allow users to interpret your question(s) and respond how they understand it
  • Hint: Consider using a simple spreadsheet to organize your interviews by user and capture responses

6. Analyze & Synthesize II: Turn user research into something meaningful

Repeat step 3.

7. From Research to Solution

Let the data from your research guide you on what to focus on during the ideation phase.

You will likely have many insights from both market research and your conversations with potential users so how will you know what to prioritize? Map key insights on an ‘Impact/Effort’ chart to surface alignment on which insights to prioritize in creating a solution.

8. Brainstorm

Brainstorming promotes creative, unbiased thinking resulting in great ideas so run a brainstorm with your team to generate ideas for your first prototype based on the insights you surfaced in step 7.

To run a successful brainstorm:

  1. Defer judgement and remain open to all ideas.
  2. Encourage wild ideas!
  3. Quantity > Quality; great ideas often emerge from bad ones.

9. From Brainstorm to Prototype

Map the resulting ideas from the brainstorm session to surface which solution idea(s) should be prioritized for prototyping. Map ideas like in step 7 above.

10. Prototype

Time to create. From hand sketching and wireframing, to blueprinting, digital design and more - now is the time to create the first iteration of your prototype.

  • Hint: Consider prototyping at the lowest fidelity possible that will allow you to tangibly represent your idea to users for testing before investing a huge amount of time and money.

11. Test and Iterate

Test your prototype early and often to mitigate risk and build trust from your users:

  1. Recruit an unbiased group of users to test prototype
  2. Collect and organize feedback
  3. Analyze and Synthesize feedback to identify key insight
  4. Prioritize feedback to implement changes, iterate on design, and test again

If you're interested in joining a group of peers who share best practices and collaborate to build new ones, get in touch!

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