Research & understanding

Framing the problem

Colton Schweitzer
November 3, 2020

Before designing anything, you need to have a solid understanding of the problem that you’re solving. To get to that understanding, you need to truly define the problem. What is it that you’re solving exactly? 

Imagine if you were flying from New York to Warsaw. If the plane was aimed even 1 degree off course, you could end up in Romania getting eaten by vampires. 

In UX, the same thing happens if you don’t frame the problem correctly. If you don’t truly understand the problem, you could end up building the wrong solution. 

At the start of many UX projects, UX designers conduct what’s called a stakeholder interview. These are one-on-one interviews with people such as the product manager, developers, UX manager, and any other stakeholder who has a vested interest in the project’s outcome. In each interview, you record their beliefs, assumptions, and questions to get clarity on the direction you’ll take to solve the problem. 

Stakeholder interviews are super helpful. However, we prefer framing the problem to accomplish this. Framing the problem is a document we create at the beginning of a project with the project stakeholders. It gathers stakeholder opinions, assumptions, and questions with everyone in the room, instead of the time-consuming one-on-ones. 

Framing the problem has 6 parts:

1. The general problem you’re solving.

2. “How might we” question.

3. The impact you hope to have on the business.

4. Your assumptions about the problem.

5. The questions you need to answer to solve the problem.

6. The constraints associated with the project.

Sometimes the insights you gain from your research will indicate that you actually framed the wrong problem. At that point, you’ll come back to the document and rewrite it to reflect the problem that you're now trying to solve. 

Framing the problem is a living document that might change along the way as you gain a deeper understanding of the user.

We see framing the problem as one of the only mandatory parts of the UX process. It’s the primary document that we use as a north star throughout the UX process to provide clarity and focus on what we actually need to solve.

Use the framing the problem document to:

Understand the problem you’re tackling in a general sense and from the business and user perspectives. 

Build team camaraderie around solving the problem together.

Determine the impact you’d like to have by solving the problem.

State all assumptions you believe to be true or not about the problem.

List out your research questions.

State the project constraints.

You can download our framing the problem template here.

Back to library
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Back to library
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WRITTEN BY
Colton Schweitzer
DATE
October 14, 2020
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