Are you solving a problem or creating something pretty?

Written on August 31, 2011

As designers it’s our job to solve communication problems. It may seem obvious but this means that we need a problem to solve before we can begin our creative process. This usually comes in the form of a design, or creative, brief.

Now we’ve all been there – client calls urgently and asks “can you quickly create a piece of design, I need this by the end of the day?”, you say “yes, of course, send over the content and I’ll get started”. As you sit down to produce a wonderful piece of design for your client it’s not long before you start bashing your head against the wall because you can’t think of a concept. The creative downward spiral starts here and it’s a bottomless pit.

As designers, we need problems to solve before we can begin solving them. Again, this sounds really obvious but I see designers all the time, working on projects which have no real brief. How can you solve a problem without knowing what that problem is?

This point is explained in this short video of Steve Jobs, at the 1997 WWDC, where he talks about working backwards from a problem to find its solution, rather than creating a solution and then trying to find a problem which it solves.

And another video where Steve talks about solving work-related problems with regards to file storage. It’s amazing how he is already beginning to touch on cloud technology in 1997 by focusing on the problem at hand. Again, 1997 WWDC.