Design Process
min read
May 10, 2023
July 31, 2020

Defining a Problem Statement — Design Thinking

Defining a Problem Statement — Design Thinking
Table of contents

Define is the second stage of the design thinking process, it is preceded by the empathy phase. This phase is about synthesizing observations about users from the empathy phase and defining an actionable problem statement. Defining the problem statement requires the articulation of the problem to establish a detailed problem statement.

If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.

Albert Einstein

Who are we empathizing with?

The purpose of a problem statement is to capture what we want to achieve with our design. It is generated through a variety of questions, through different options, opinions, perspectives, and different ways of thinking about the problem. What difficulties are the users facing? What are the patterns of their everyday behavior? What needs to be changed and what should remain the same? These many questions frame the problem statement in a user-centered way.

A defined problem statement brings in focused clear direction for the stakeholders, project managers, and the team members about the final achievements and deliverables. The goal is to frame a meaningful, detailed, and actionable problem statement which leads to various solutions to ideate, which is the third phase of design thinking.

The Steps to Write a Problem Statement in a Human-Centered way.

All phases of design thinking are a way of solving problems, strategizing, and designing in a human-centered way. A good way to define a problem is to frame a problem statement and write down the observations from analysis to synthesis.


To analyze the problem break down the complex concepts into smaller, easier to understand parts from the information collected during the phase of empathy in the empathy map.

The empathy map can be studied and observed further with the below categorization which helps in creating an actionable and tangible problem statement.

  1. Who are we empathizing with? Who is experiencing a problem that needs to be solved? Can these people be further categorized as potential users according to their situations, demographic details, persona, motivation, and behavioral patterns?
  2. What are the pain points? What is the real problem? What needs to be accomplished by solving that problem? What pain point needs to be relieved? what are the struggles of the people?
  3. Where is the problem happening? What environment does the problem take place in? How many people are experiencing the same problem in the same environment? Are the people getting used to the problem? Do they need a solution at all?
  4. Why is the problem needs to be solved? is this problem really worth solving? Does it bring value to the user's life? Does it also bring value to the business?
  5. What are the gain points — What will the problem statement solve? How many people will benefit from it? and what will be those benefits including those of users and business?


Involves putting these pieces back together to form the whole problem statement.

For example, the problem could be —The changing world with social distance norms has affected the mental well being of people.

Now we have to consider, Who is being affected by the problem? Who are we empathizing with? — People who are staying away from home, working remotely, and are unable to meet their friends, family, and go out to make new connections.

A defined problem statement after considering the details would be, "We need to provide a way of easy connection for the extroverts, extroverted introverts who miss going out and one's who are used to going to work every day".

Now, is more information need to be observed? like the environment of the problem, where are the users located?

A more defined problem statement would be "We need to build an app for people in urban and sub-urban cities who feel alone and need to feel connected while also creating a new connection, while they stay at home and work remotely".

There are other points that could be factored in while defining the problem further. Why does it matter? What will this problem solve? A more defined problem statement after factoring all aspects would be, "People who are used to being social and active on a daily basis, need an app where they can interact, indulge in group discussions, play games, join groups and go live to stay connected to people with similar interests and ideals because shared experiences can bring people closer and create a sense of belongingness all over again".

Not all points are required to be implemented in a single problem statement but it's important to ask questions and consider as many factors. By the end of the define phase, the phase of empathy turns into a workable and user-centered problem statement. 

What next?

The well thought, actionable, and tangible problem statement backs up the next phase of design thinking. In this third phase of design thinking, the team constantly brainstorms to come up with many potential solutions.

Finally, from the quantitative approach of creating as many solutions as possible, the most compelling solution comes into being through cognitive thinking with fun experimental ways of the third phase, Ideate.

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