Product design should find the right product problems to solve

By Jodie Hopperton


Los Angeles, California, United States


Following the discussion about Amazon v Apple design (here), I received an e-mail from INMA member Anup Gupta in India, who has been a “conventional design guy” for over 30 years. 

“The definition of ‘DESIGN’ that I have come to practice, and encourage my colleagues to follow is — DESIGN = CREATIVE SOLUTION TO A PROBLEM. So whether it be the branding of a publication, or the reworking of a process, or the floor plan of a newsroom/shop floor, or the lighting or sound management of an area, or the ergonomic design of a chair as we sit long hours ‘working from home,’ as long as the ‘problem’ is accurately and competently defined, ‘a creative solution can always be developed. 

“But there lies the challenge, as most do not invest in identifying the ‘problem.’ Amazon makes ‘buying’ simple, as that was the problem they had to crack … Apple ‘challenges’ the status quo to create an ecosystem and create path breaking products which they incidentally also sell ...  just as the Wright Brothers did with human flight.” 

He summarised by saying: “DESIGN, I believe, is a very misinterpreted word. The problem, more often than not, is not identified. The resultant DESIGN of the GOALS is therefore flawed, and objectives not met.”

This touched on something else that I have been thinking about: True product is solving a customer problem. So within designing to meet company goals, this should also primarily be solving a customer problem (we can get into why they should be the same thing another day.) 

With this in mind, there was an excellent summary of a common rabbit hole: solving for problems that customers actually care about. This was written by Shreyas Doshi, who has built products at Stripe, Yahoo, Google, and Twitter. I’m over-summarising this for brevity, however encourage you to read the full thread here. Artwork is by Shaun Miller. It was shared by INMA member Sonali Verma at The Globe and Mail in Canada.

The first part starts off very much as expected and broadly follows the first steps above:

In this case, after several interactions over a period of time, customers do not adopt the product and this is what happens (recognise it?!):

So what did they learn?

And what can we learn from this? We can be much more effective is we focus on the *right* problems. Using customer problems stack rank (CPSR) is one way of doing that.

Not on Twitter or want the TL;DR version? Here it is:

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About Jodie Hopperton

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