Creativity / UX design

What is a wicked problem and how can you solve it

Did you have the feeling of not been able to solve a wicked problem? Here I share with you some creativity methods to think outside the box and end-up with innovative solutions.

Image of tangled boat mooring ropes as a representation of something difficult to solve.

1. What is a wicked problem?

Characteristics of a Wicked Problem

  1. Frustration from not knowing where or how to begin. 🤯
  2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule — there’s no way to know whether your solution is final.
  3. Solutions to wicked problems are not easy to test — is difficult to know if you has make an impact or, in case there is a change, if it was because of your solution.
  4. Every wicked problem is essentially unique.
  5. Every wicked problem can be considered a symptom of another problem.
  6. There is always more than one explanation for a wicked problem. The explanations vary greatly depending on the individual’s perspective.

2. How to think outside the 📦 ?

3. Which are and what happens at the four Stages of creativity?

4. Divergent Thinking

↔️ Lateral thinking

How to think 🤔 divergently — 5 Ideation Methods

Image of Homer from The Simpson trying a make up gun on Marge as a representation of a bad design.
  1. Write down as many bad ideas for the topic you are working on.
  2. Analyze what’s bad about your ideas. What is bad about this idea? Why is this a bad thing? Are there any other things that share this feature but are not bad? If so, what’s the difference?
  3. Analyze what’s good about your ideas. What is good about this idea? Why is this a good thing? Are there any other things that share this feature but are not good? If so, what’s the difference?
  4. Make your ideas better. Are there good aspects you want to keep? Are there bad aspects you want to change? What if the context were different?
  1. Write down 10–20 arbitrary constraints (e.g. “use while bicycling” or “to be used by a blind person”).
  2. Think about the idea or product you’re working on and then pick a random constraint on it. For example, a public transportation… “that you can use only at night”.
  3. Come up with as many ideas as possible for your product that works with the arbitrary constraint. For example, the service can have beds 🛏 inside.
  4. Look through your ideas and consider how each idea could make sense without the arbitrary constraint. How many users take a bus during night? Are they coming back to their homes? How much time they spend traveling? Are the seats confortable enough? What happen if they fell asleep?
  1. Choose a product or a service and figure out, “What’s the essential characteristic?” Think of a concrete feature, not something abstract. (e.g. a car with no engine).
  2. Imagine what the product would be like without that essential characteristic.
  3. Write down your ideas for what the product without the essential characteristic could be used for — or imagine other contexts in which it could be used.
  4. Then consider your original product again. Could you make any improvements or come up with any new features inspired by the ideas you generated in step 3?
  1. Pick a random item in your surroundings or a random word in a dictionary. Write down as many attributes and associations as you can think of for the object you’ve picked (e.g. a tree and transportation).
  2. The thing you just picked is a good metaphor for an item/word/concept you’re working on. Come up with an explanation for how the thing you picked is a good metaphor.
  3. Use the metaphors you came up with to improve or change your product or service.
Another image of Homer. This time at the launch of Homer car as a representation of a horrible design.
  1. Write down the features which are problematic in your product or idea.
  2. Analyze why each of the features you wrote down is problematic.

5. Convergence: How to be creative through analytical thinking

↕️ Vertical thinking

Convergent Thought — 3 convergent ideation methods

  1. Create an overview of the different categories or opposites you have in a current design problem. For example Bike and Scotter.
  2. Dissolve the categories and ask yourself “In what ways can my design be both bike and skate?”. In the most obvious sense, it can’t. Your users either use a bike or a skate on your service. But are there any situations where it can? For example, a scooter is in some ways in between the two. You use it while standing, but it has a handlebars like a bike.
  3. List all the overlaps you find.
  4. Go through your list and consider how big the overlap for each item is. A good way to do this is to draw a two-dimensional coordinate system with an x and y axis and place the items on your list there. For example, a scooter is probably midway between a bike and a skate, but a skate roller is closer to a skate than a bike.
  5. Consider which consequences the overlaps have for your design. How many options do you need? If your service for adult people, maybe the bike is actually the perfect device for it and you should forget about all the other options and ask your users to use only that.

6. The take away!

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