Don’t Jump To Solutions: One of the Most Important Things I Learned from Design School

When I was in design school I was quick to jump to solutions for my design challenges. I followed general design process guidelines but I always got a little antsy in the define the problem and research stages. (I like to build and ship.)

As I’ve been able to go through design thinking processes in all activities throughout my life I’ve been able to develop a deeper appreciation for defining and researching the problem. It seems obvious but often we set out to solve something we don’t fully understand. Defining the problem and research are an investment in production capacity (of the P/PC Paradigm discussed in the 7-Habits of Highly Effective People – it is not production itself but rather lays the framework for better production later on).

The value created in defining the problem, understanding the context of the situation and not jumping to solutions is that you become aware of what you may not have seen before in a pure solution mindset. Plain and simple. It’s like running around your house trying to find your sunglasses when, if you paused a minute to asses the situation, you would find the sunglasses are on your head… or better: it’s dark outside and you don’t need them.

The value created in research is similar to defining the problem. Those who have done user experience research know how fascinating it can be to learn about how people interact with something. This requires you to get out of your own head and be attentive to real world interaction. The secret of great designers is their ability to study people. Often the solutions that arise, of no surprise, are more holistic and more human. These solutions feel organic and obvious rather than imposing.

As I enter into projects at Mozilla, I keep this in mind. I always have ideas for solutions but I learn to understand the problem and learn from people first. Usually I am not far off with my initial solution ideas and usually my initial solution ideas completely missed something I had no idea about. The result is something far better than I had initially envisioned and I have a better connection with the value it creates in peoples’ lives.

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