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Phase Two

to define the core problems





The problem statement?



What difficulties and barriers are the users coming up against?


This phase can also be described as to gather the information to make sense of them. Especially questions in this context can guide through the phase like:


Based on the information and data that were gathered during the first phase: EMPATHIZE, these observations and synthesize need to be analyses in order to define the core problems. The definitions are called problem statements.


What patterns can be observed?

What is the big user problem that needs to be solve?

Why is the define stage so important?

The define stage ensures to fully understand the goal of design project. It helps to articulate the design problem, and provides a clear-cut objective to work towards. A meaningful, actionable problem statement will steer the process in the right direction, helping to kick-start the ideation process and work a way towards a solution.

+ info

Without a well-defined problem statement, it’s hard to know what direction – and aim – is needed. The work will lack focus, and the final design will suffer. Not only that: in the absence of a clear problem statement, it’s extremely difficult to explain to stakeholders and team members exactly what to achieve.

The Problem statement I

A problem statement identifies the gap between the current state (i.e. the problem) and the desired state (i.e. the goal) of a process or product. Within the design context the user problem can be identified as an unmet need.

the gap

It provides a clear description of the issue that the designer seeks to address, keeping the focus on the user at all times.


By designing a solution that satisfies this need, the user can be satisfied and ensure a pleasant user experience.

The Problem statement II

There are some frames that could prove useful in framing the problem:

From the user's point of view:

"I am a young professional who tries to eat healthy, but I find it difficult because I work long hours and don't always have time to shop for food and prepare my meals. This makes me feel frustrated and I have low self-esteem".

From a user research perspective:

"Busy professionals need an easy, time-efficient way to eat healthy because they often work long hours and don't have time to shop and prepare meals."

Based on the four Ws: who, what, where and why

"Our young professional has difficulty eating healthy during the week because she works long hours. Our solution should give her a quick and easy way to get ingredients and prepare healthy meals to take to work."

These statements target the same problem - just in a slightly different way.

How to write a meaningful problem statement

Writing a meaningful problem statement can be a big challenge. How do you sum up all the complexity of the user's conscious and unconscious desires into a simple, actionable statement?

Broad enough for creative freedom


narrow enough + manageable

A good problem statement is human-centered and user-focused.

This requires you to frame your problem statement according to specific users, their needs and the insights that your team has gained in the Empathize phase. The problem statement should be about the people the team is trying to help, rather than focusing on technology, monetary returns or product specifications.


Broad enough for creative freedom

A good problem statement leaves room for innovation and creative freedom

This means that the problem statement should not focus too narrowly on a specific method regarding the implementation of the solution. The problem statement should also not list technical requirements, as this would unnecessarily restrict the team and prevent them from exploring areas that might bring unexpected value and insight to the project.

  • Let your interviewees tell you stories, and always ask "why" to discover deeper meaning. Engagement can come from both short on-demand encounters and longer scheduled conversations.
  • Engaging extreme users - Find the extreme cases within your customer base to identify the highest level of user needs, problems, and problem-solving methods. This allows you to identify the full range of issues that typical, non-extreme users might face. If you can satisfy an extreme user, you can satisfy any user.
  • In addition, it is always a good idea to conduct interviews with people who have hands-on experience with what you are trying to develop. When interviewing, try to put yourself in your users' shoes. You REALLY want to know what drives them, what frustrates them, and what their values are regarding the product.

Make it manageable: At the same time, your problem statement should guide you and provide direction.

On the other hand, a problem statement such as, “Improve the human condition,” is too broad and will likely cause team members to easily feel daunted. Problem statements should have sufficient constraints to make the project manageable

Narrow enough to make it manageable



collection of tools


The 4 W's



Why-How laddering


Space saturation is the decoration of a design space with all the findings from the empathy phases of understanding and observation.

Display all your data: notes of field research; pictures; quotes or remarkable statements/sentences from interviews; thoughts or experiences; citations from the brief or from the exercise Day in the life; observations of people, spaces, and/or circumstances…

The space will look like a collage of findings and stories.

Why-how laddering

Often times abstract statements are more meaningful ...

  • A moderator
  • Flipchart marker or whiteboard pen
  • A large sheet of paper (A1 or even better A0) or a whiteboard

What is needed:

In Why-How-Laddering, the question of the challenge should be adapted. Questions are always asked upwards with “Why …” and downwards with “How …”. Like climbing up or down in the laddering like on a ladder.

"As a general rule, asking 'why’ yields more abstract statements and asking 'how’yields specific statements. Often times abstract statements are more meaningful but not as directly actionable, and the opposite is true of more specific statements."

The 4 W's

to put your finger on the right problem statement...

  • Who is experiencing the problem?

In other words, who is your target user; who will be the focus of your problem statement?

Who, what, where, and why?

  • What is the problem?

Based on the observations you made during the empathize phase, what are the problems and pain-points that frequently came up? What task is the user trying to accomplish, and what’s standing in their way?

  • Where does the problem present itself?

In what space (physical or digital), situation or context is the user when they face this problem? Are there any other people involved?

  • Why does it matter?

Why is it important that this problem be solved? What value would a solution bring to the user, and to the business?

Approaching your observations with these four questions in mind...

Approaching your observations with these four questions in mind will help you to identify patterns within your user research. In identifying the most prevalent issues, you’ll be one step closer to formulating a meaningful problem statement.

Designers engage with users (people) to understand their needs and gain insights about their lives. We also draw inspiration from their work-arounds and frameworks. When you speak with and observe extreme users the needs are amplified and their work-arounds are often more notable. This helps you pull out meaningful needs that may not pop when engaging with the middle of the bell curve. However, the needs that are uncovered through extreme users are often needs of a wider population.

Step 1: Identify Users, Needs & InsightsStep 2: Create Your ChartStep 3: Form Your POV Statement

Determining who is an extreme user starts with considering what aspect of your design challenge you want explore to an extreme. List a number of facets to explore within your design space. Then think of people who may be extreme in those facets. For example, if you are redesigning the grocery store shopping experience you might consider the following aspects: how groceries are gathered, how payment is made, how purchase choices are made, how people get their groceries home, etc. Then to consider the aspect of gathering groceries, for example, you might talk to professional shoppers, someone who uses a shopping cart to gather recyclables (and thus overloads the cart), product pullers for online buyers, people who bring their kids shopping with them, or someone who doesn’t go to grocery stores (and ask why).

The POV - Point of View

A good POV will allow you to ideate and solve your challenge in a goal-oriented manner – keeping the focus on your users, their needs and your insights about them

How to do it?