User Experience is Solving the Right Problem

I’ve had this sitting in my Dropbox Paper account for a while. I guess now is a good time to publish it ;-)

It was Christmas 2007-ish and I recently stumbled into a UX role. As a younger version of my wise self, my family would often ask me during holiday conversations what I was doing–life, career, etc. This was the re-occuring theme for years. At the time I found it difficult to tell people what I did for a career. Regardless of what I said, they always responded back with “So you’re in IT then?”. It’s not completely their fault. I started my career in IT and to be honest, I probably wasn’t explaining UX properly. Sometimes, explaining what you do to others can be difficult. This is especially true for user experience because many people, even in the software industry still don’t understand.


I often get questions from those interested in a UX career. The most common one is, “How do I get a job in UX?”. This is a very loaded question and can take time to answer based on the individual’s goals, skillset, current experience, etc. In true UX spirit, I like to reframe their thinking to focus more on what skills are required to be successful. While it takes a lot to be a successful UX professional, this is the most important skill. From a UI designer to a researcher you need to love doing this one thing. This one thing is what I tell everyone who asks me about UX. This one thing is the foundation to understanding what UX is.

User experience is problem solving. It’s discovering the right problem and the customer’s behavior, motivations, and goals. It’s making sure that you understand the problem space before identifying solutions. It all starts with a problem.

This is a very simplistic way of describing it but it’s how I tell my mother, relatives and friends what I do on a daily basis. Describing UX this way helps people understand the value that I add to this world. You may think that I’m stating the obvious, but one thing that I’ve learned over my ten years of experience in the field is that people don’t really like to properly understand the problem. People go right into solutions mode because it makes us feel more productive in meetings. I call this solutions-first thinking and it happens on every team at some point. It’s up to UX to facilitate conversations and refocus the energy of the team in the right direction.

At it’s core, problem solving is about understanding the problem and those that are experiencing that problem. To get there you can:

  • Define the problem
  • Define the audience
  • Come up with ideas
  • Evaluate ideas and alternatives
  • Implement a solution

By focusing on the problem, context, people and gaining a shared understanding with team mates, solutions-first thinking goes away and you start to deliver products of value.


Learn ways to discover problems and ways to solve those problems. Avoid a solutions-first mentality. Find creative ways to gather data. Talk to customers. The work that you put out in the world matters and often exists for years, even decades. Collaborate with team mates. Create a shared understanding. Most of all, love what you do and change the world.

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