Matt Felten

Bring Me Problems, Not Solutions

January 18, 2018

Bring me solutions, not problems! — Business Bro

For discussion-sake, here’s an example scenario I want to break down. A customer reports a bug to your customer support team. The support agent makes a ticket. The product manager sees the ticket and figures out a way to fix it. They give the designer a task to design that new piece of UI. If your designer-sense is tingling, keep reading.

The trigger here is that the solution was already designed by the time it was handed to the designer. The idea part is already done. The only part left to do is to push some pixels to hand over to engineering. Boring!

An issue I see in young and growing design teams is the idea of ownership over the solution. The fun part has been taken away, so we have two options — begrudgingly design the idea at 40% effort or push back on it. My favorite is when the idea gets pushed back on because it wasn’t created with a “proper process”. Days are spent researching, iterating on mockups, and testing. And then at the end, the best solution is the same one. eye roll

My theory is that everyone outside of design has heard the phrase at the top of this post their entire career. Coming to a manager with a problem and then the solution is the thing that you get a raise or promotion for. You’re a go-getter.

We designers ask everyone to do the exact opposite. We are trained on how to be the solution-bringers. To add the right amount of process to the problem. To diverge and converge enough times to come up with a perfectly nuanced solution. Yay us.

One thing I try to encourage designers to do is to look at the request as just that — a request. We can change it. If you can add to it, do it. If it seems reasonable as-is, do it. If you don’t fully understand what’s happening, get clarity. If you have a hypothesis for other ideas, test it. Everyone wants to solve the problem the best way possible.

We can have input (or “a seat at the table”) as long as it doesn’t become combative. We are on the same team so we need to act like it. I don’t like improve generally but the “Yes, and..” phrase is really powerful for this. Whatever level of detail task you get is a great start. What you do with it is up to you.

Matt Felten