• Sean Keenan

What's the Problem?

In the design thinking process, the phase of define is mainly when you start getting a clear picture on the real problems affecting a user. Compared to the analysis that took up much of the empathy phase, define will be mainly synthesis of that analysis into full, realizable problems.

Problems go beyond the user

In the design thinking model, empathize and define are closely related. They are the first two stages in the model and as interaction-design.org states here, they often work in tandem with each other

Although analysis takes place during the Empathize stage and synthesis takes place during the Define stage, they do not only happen in the distinct stages of Design Thinking. In fact, analysis and synthesis often happen consecutively throughout all stages of the Design Thinking process. Design thinkers often analyze a situation before synthesizing new insights, and then analyze their synthesized findings once more to create more detailed syntheses.

Like everything else in design, finding the problem is a process. It’s highly unlikely you’ll get this sudden “aha!” moment for the problem like you may think. Rather, the best solutions often come from long thought out processes that break the problem down to its simplest form. A great example of this is Apple and how they first created the iPhone.

The Apple Model

Apple is potentially the most well known brand in the world, thanks in no small part to their strives in accessibility and ease of use. In his introduction of the iPhone to the world, co-founder Steve Jobs gave a small look into the internal thought process of Apple during their design process

"The most advanced phones are called smart phones. They are definitely a little smarter, but they actually are harder to use. They all have these keyboards that are there whether you need them or not. How do you solve this? We solved it in computers 20 years ago. We solved it with a screen that could display anything. What we’re going to do is get rid of all these buttons and just make a giant screen. We don’t want to carry around a mouse. We’re going to use a stylus. No. You have to get them and put them away, and you lose them. We’re going to use our fingers." - Steve Jobs, 2007 iPhone reveal

Through their initial analysis, they were able to understand the main issue with smartphones at the time was their ease of use. The main culprit to this ease of use was the keyboards taking up nearly half the phones. With that in mind, they began theorizing how they could remove a keyboard and discovered that they’ve already done something similar with their Macintosh. Overall, they were able to take this analysis and synthesis it into one whole idea, which ended up being the iPhone.

(At around 11:40, you hear Jobs mention pixel density, lack of buttons and thinness of the phone as major strengths. If you look at current iPhone’s, this thought has clearly not changed, as each phone keeps getting thinning, has greater pixel density, and has now removed the home button at the bottom for more screen space)

Problem statements

With a clearer idea of creating problem statements in mind, I decided to task myself with creating five unique problem statements in relation to my empathy maps created for the TGI Friday’s episode of undercover boss.

Statement #1 - Food delivery being used over dining in is a challenge for Ray because it reduces the traffic that comes into the restaurant.

This is the core problem of the restaurant that caused this episode to happen in the first place. Ray states in the beginning that this has been an issue for a while and he attempts to fix this initially by adding new menu items and promotions. He feels he needs to see the stores in action to better understand the lack of traffic though. The severity of this problem is shown throughout the episode, as many restaurants are shown to have low traffic due to poor management and marketing.

Statement #2 - The roof caving in is a challenge for Brittney because she is frustrated by how long it’s taking the corporation to approve fixes.

Brittney is a bartender at a Friday’s chain where the roof caved in on the store during her shift. Brittney is frustrated by it and implies it’s been an issue for a bit, but says corporate is bottlenecking potential fixes. Ray is shocked by this and feels this shows him that in some franchises the overall chain is broken. This specific chain also doesn’t have a GM, which further shows the break in the chain.

Statement #3 - Overall organization is a challenge for Michelle due to her lack of training.

Compared to the previous worker, Ray seemed less impressed with Michelle. Her organization was poor and she made some basic mistakes, such as not immediately talking to a table that had a complaint. As Ray later found out, this was because of her lack of training. Michelle only had two weeks of training compared to the required eight, so it made sense for this restaurant's organization to be quality. Ray seems to consider that the main issue as well, as one of the gifts he provides afterwards is more training for her.

Statement #4 - Supporting his family is a challenge for Abdul due to his past.

Adbul is a very hard worker who has a great handle on the kitchen. Abdul had a rough upbringing though, eventually with him ending up in jail. He’s got out and over the past few years has turned his life around greatly, though is still fighting to support his family. He doesn’t outright say he’s struggling financially, but the combination of his story and dedication to his daughter and other family members showed Ray that he deserved a promotion and that people like him should lead the brand.

Statement #5 - Achieving her dream is a challenge for Suzanna due to the lack of traffic in the restaurant.

It’s shown right away that Suzanna is very dedicated and responsible with her job. The issue is though that the restaurant gets no traffic during her shifts. This is further emphasized by the fact that she has to go outside during her shift and put coupons and flyers on cars. This issue is especially rough for Suzanna, as she can only work during the day so she can take care of her nephew. Friday’s is accommodating for her and allows her sister to take the night shift, but a boost in traffic is needed for Suzanna so she can support her family and go to college

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© 2020 by Sean Keenan.