Emer Boothman › Problem Solving Framework

March 2, 2017 - No Comments!

Problem Solving Framework

People come to the field of UX design from a whole range of occupations, bringing with them a huge variety of skills. It's one of the aspects of the industry that's so exciting to me, as the scope for improvement in design in all aspects of our lives is also wide.

From what I've seen so far, the common factor that ties these designers together is an empathetic soul. Good design stems from thinking about how people will use it, so a wide variety of backgrounds in designers should lead to better and more inclusive design overall.

I take a practical and pragmatic approach to design philosophy. I've noticed similarities between the way systems are structured in my experience as a town planner and then as an industrial climber, and within Maslow's hierarchy of needs. These hierarchies are a great way to frame the problems we try to solve in any profession. In each, the lower level is generally the first need encountered by people and involves more effort to meet.

Design Hierarchy

When I worked as a town planner, I was conscious of the impact that design choices had on the environment and human interaction in a physical sense. For instance, people are willing to walk between 800m to 1000m to a train station, but will only walk roughly 400m to a bus stop. Planners must consider such human behaviour and motivation when designing neighbourhoods and transit systems. If not, people tend to find their own shortcuts, which can be a fine thing, but it may also mean the design has failed people.

The differences in thoughtful vs thoughtless (or short-sighted, to be kinder) planning are clear when you compare the ease of getting around in a city with a great public transit system to one that is planned for cars and not people.

Safety Hierarchy

Working as a rigger and climber on mine sites and oil rigs, a company's commitment to safety culture made a big difference to every-day attitudes and to ensuring workers all went home safely. It made a big difference to a crew's behaviour when their company cared about safety, because doing the right thing by everyone else became habit.

Safety culture is based on the hierarchy of safety controls (below). I relate the safety hierarchy to an example that's applicable to town planning, where we can consider the hazard of cars to cyclists. Removing the hazard would involve:

  • Elimination - removing cars;
  • Substitution - substituting cars for more bicycles;
  • Engineering - isolating cars and cyclists from each other in dedicated lanes;
  • Administration - fines for drivers of cars using their mobile phones while driving; and
  • PPE - personal protective equipment is safety equipment for cyclists.

Maslow's Hierarchy

The pyramids illustrate that if we don't meet the base level, we can't meet higher needs. That doesn't make the higher echelons less legitimate or unworthy of consideration, but their solutions are likely to be less effective if the others aren't met first.

As when people say 'first world problems'. Sure, it depends on what someone is complaining about, but sometimes a person's problem is a real problem. It's up to us as their friend to really listen and maybe help them find a solution, or to say 'Snap out of it!'The safety, design and needs hierarchies are just three I'm fairly familiar with now. While the consequences might be different in different fields (heavy machinery vs losing customers from a shoddy sign up process), all the problems are valid. Each framework informs my approach to user experience design.

Published by: emerboothman in Problem Solving

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