What’s your problem, man?

by Sean Smevik

What seems to be the officer, problem?

Problem solving is the core of UX design. The job of the designer is not to just create a product for the sake of having a product—the design must be a solution to a user’s specific pain. If there is no problem to address, then why build something in the first place?

A police officer

As you know if you’ve been following the blog, the AUX team and I have been working on a project that involves a design overhaul of an existing product. The client hoped for us to tell them what UX improvements could help convert free users of their app into paid members. What we saw, however, was a somewhat confusing product in a market space that already had an effective and popular solution. How could we find a real problem that the client could actually address?

…but that already exists!

When we received the project, we jumped straight to researching users and the competition, and started to tease out all the little problems we could find in the current product. The app was buggy, the website lacked a convincing story… but most of all, the “problem” (as we saw it) had been largely addressed by existing solutions.

We kept asking ourselves, “why would I use this when I could just use what’s already out there?” We interviewed a couple specialists, and they all gave the same feedback: “There is already a great solution to this. Why try and fix what’s not broken?” We’d found our problem: there wasn’t one.

We needed to find a way to give our product a purpose. After hours of thinking, sketching, and interviewing, we had nothing but a blown budget. Not a speck of innovation. What we needed was a montage. Hey, it worked for Rocky.

Cue up some Survivor

We locked ourselves in a conference room and went back through our users that we had identified, narrowed down what we that they needed in an app. That got us nowhere. Again we went back and looked at our competitor’s products studied their target audience, tried to fit our app into their space. Failed again.

As a long day turned into night, and empty pizza boxes started to pile high in the corner, we were 48 hours from a client presentation with nothing to show. We needed to tear everything apart, strip the app into its smallest pieces and start at square one. Only the most essential functions would stay.

When it came time to present our solution to the client, we were anxious. Would they accept such a fundamental change to how their product worked? As it turns out: yes. Though pushing back on a few of our assumptions, our client accepted the need for a completely new direction for their product, and asked us to get started designing. I credit this to our strong presentation, which supported our key points with case studies and industry research; the pragmatic and data-driven client team loved it.

If we rebuild it, they will come.

Designing without a focus on solving a specific pain point will result in a product with no clear function or purpose—a “solution looking for a problem”. If there is no end goal, you can just add feature after feature to “add value”, and end up with cumbersome and unusable interface.

When you have mere seconds to convince people to use what you’ve created, each font must have purpose; every button requires intent. You have to sweat the small stuff. In order to become a problem solver, UX designers must first become highly-qualified skeptics.

So, I want to know: what the hell is your problem?

About Fresh Tilled Soil

Fresh Tilled Soil is a Boston-based user interface and experience design firm focused on human centered digital design