Big Problems Require Simple Solutions

understanding_customersA recent blog post from one of my colleagues, Sameer Patel, has really got me thinking.

In his post, titled ‘problem sizing’, Sameer does an excellent job at framing a phenomenon we’ve all likely seen.   The big solution isn’t always the right thing to do in order to solve a big problem.   He shares a really inspiring example called Koenig’s WaterWheel which is a simplistic solution for people who spend hours each day collecting water from distant sources.   The thoughtfully designed and affordable WaterWheel allows people to roll a 50-liter container as opposed to carrying 5-gallon jugs.

We are often so focused on how we are doing against our competition that it is easy to lose sight of our customers’ needs and fall into the big solution trap.   Does 10% more features mean we are 10% better? Usually not.

We tend to get to the big solution because we are usually passionate about our expertise and want to share what we know, but when it comes to finding solutions, we don’t spend nearly enough time really understand the problem before we jump into solutioning.   The result: a dozen prescriptions being written before our customer has even described that they might have a headache (and that is if anyone even spoke to the customer).

Albert Einstein once said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first fifty-five minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”  The first step in creating user experiences that are truly differentiating is to avoid jumping to early conclusions and start feeling your customers’ pain.

There are countless examples like Nest, who drastically simplified the experience around everyday home items such as the thermostat and smoke alarm or Hipmunk, a travel start-up who took a dramatically different (and better) approach to displaying travel options for customers.   Both could have easily come up with a ‘bigger’ solution such as a thermostat with even more programming options or a travel booking site that is connected to more providers, but they took a different route by framing the problem, deeply studying the customer and coming up with the simplest, most viable solution.

All of us need to practice continually reframing in order to survive as markets and technology change.  Reframing problems takes time, effort, and attention, but it enables you to see the world around you through a different lens so you can design things that people adore.

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