# Problem framing & reframing

# Phase: 🎨 Problem shaping
Focus: Converge


Time commitment: 1-2 hours
Difficulty: Moderate
Materials needed: Meeting space (physical or virtual), whiteboard and stickies (physical or virtual), participants from a variety of technical and cultural perspectives (the more of these, the more useful)
Who should participate: User experience designers, visual designers, product/project owners, community specialists, developers
Best for: Finding new ways to approach "unsolvable" problems

# About this tool

Problem framing (or reframing) can be extremely helpful at any stage of the design process when you've hit a sticky spot, but it's particularly useful when you're trying to converge divergent ideation into a coherent whole.

If you're "simply" trying to frame a problem from a large amount of ideation artifacts, consider using the Stanford d.school's "five elements" framework: 1. What: What's the challenge space? On what human experience are you trying to make an impact? 2. Whom: What's the group of humans for which you're designing? Is your initial definition of that group potentially too broad (often the case) or too narrow? 3. Context: What do you already know about the issues, competitors, or other factors that can explain why the challenge to hand matters? 4. Goals: Can you explicitly state the goals of the project or product? Are they quantifiable? 5. Assumptions: Do you already know that you've made some? Do any of those assumptions have to be true in order for your solution to be effective?

On the other hand, if you've already attempted to frame and define a problem, but aren't satisfied with the results, you may need a method for re-framing the problem, such as:

  • Powers of Ten: Increase and decrease the magnitudes of your problem's context to see if new connections or insights emerge. (What if the number of seed users for your product needed to be an order of magnitude larger? Or you could get by with an order of magnitude smaller?)
  • Reverse thinking: Flip your problem on its head to come up with new ideas. For example, if the question is "how can we get more people to use our online training materials?", instead ask the "ridiculous" question of "how can we make it as difficult and unappealing as possible for people to take our online courses?"
  • Non-customer (or non-user) view: In a similar vein to reverse thinking, try looking at your problem from a non-user's view. Why won't they use your thing? This could also include soon-to-be non-users, non-users who were once users, non-users who don't know your thing exists yet.
  • Consider that problems hide inside other problems, and the initial problem might not be the relevant one: The canonical example here is of Henry Ford asking what the user wants, and hearing "a faster horse." But, of course, the user doesn't actually want a faster horse; she just doesn't know what she really wants is to move quickly, and a horse doesn't have to be the means of doing that.