From ambiguity to clarity…

As designers, we’re constantly being thrown into situations whereby we must help a team — who often believes that having “some screens” will fix everything — go through a (not-so-straightforward) journey of understanding and discovery…and ultimately resolution. We all know it’s not easy and often takes multiple iterative attempts, usually with changing players and adjusted timelines — not to mention shifting political temperatures. Yet aside from all that, a major responsibility of guiding a cross-functional team is helping everyone move from a state of ambiguity to clarity. Clarity equals assurance and confidence. Nobody in business likes the “fuzziness” of not knowing, the uncertainty of not having “the solution”. But you can’t just throw together “some screens” for a Powerpoint … The journey requires a scaffolding, a framework to give order/structure/assurance to the team.

Here’s what I’ve used in the past, a set of questions, for clients and in-house teams to get that journey started…to spark productive, if somewhat provocative, dialogues:

  • What’s the “felt difficulty” users are facing? 
    • This is the friction, frustration, anxiety, something just not quite right, but could be better…latent or explicit.
  • What’s the critical question we’re addressing?
    • From the user’s POV but also from a business strategy angle, and how do they intersect, if at all?
  • What’s the core problem? Why is it a problem?
    • And it’s good to itemize the range of problems (biz, tech, human, social, etc.) and start to discuss the classic Eisenhower matrix (urgent vs important) which leads to…
  • What’s the consequences of not solving it? 
    • A problem is when there’s consequences, especially if it’s not solved in a timely way. Else it’s just an issue or a complaint. Again, consider scopes of impact, going back to Eames’ Powers of Ten or Eliel Saarinen’s famous line about designing a chair in a house.

This line of questioning will open up latent assumptions and most likely mixed/conflicting POVs — but that’s a good thing to get them out early on. What all this does is elevate the discourse from “gimme the answer” towards a strategic place of deep questioning of purpose & value. Uncomfortable? Sure. But it’s essential for getting design to influence and shape the collective realization of what’s really at the heart of the matter. And it’s not a Powerpoint slide deck!

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