Product as a process, not a solution

Think about the last time a friend came to you with a problem. What was your response? Be honest, and ask yourself: ‘did I listen, in order to understand, or did I start offering solutions?’.

Often, when faced with problems or challenges, we immediately jump into solution-mode. As human beings, we are very good at coming up with solutions, and this ability has driven social progress throughout our history. But there are many possible solutions to every problem, and the solutions we come up with will always be conditioned by our past experiences, as well as by our assumptions, biases, contexts, and our world views. How do we know that the solution I offer you is the most appropriate for your needs? What if I haven’t fully understood the complexity of your problem? And what about all the other possible solutions we haven’t even considered or explored?

With product development, it’s very easy for designers and developers to receive a client brief, and to immediately start coming up with solutions to the challenge that’s been set. Because we’re the experts, right? That’s why clients come to us — for our expertise. But this expertise is just one necessary component in creating a great product. Product development is a process, which starts with truly understanding the problem, and most importantly, building empathy for the people affected by it. This requires a healthy dose of humility, patience, research, analysis, and some honest conversations. It means recognising that we all have different ways of seeing the world, and that these frames of reference will influence the design and development of our solutions.

When a new client engages with FONK, we tell them we offer a process, not a solution. Our product itself is a process, based on design-thinking methodology, which hinges on spending time first understanding the problem, before then coming up with solutions. We spend time listening to and really understanding our client. We create a project team, which comprises people with many different backgrounds, experiences, skills and world-views. We name our assumptions up front, and we spend time really understanding one another’s perspective of the challenge at hand. Crucially, we go out and speak to our ‘users’ — the people who are affected by the problem that we’re trying to solve. We actively build empathy for their experiences and we seek out stories, emotions and new points of view, so that we can reach new insights that otherwise we could never have come up with on our own. We ask lots of questions, we really listen, and we dig deep, so that we can truly understand our users’ needs.

To build products that people love, we first have to listen to, and understand, one another. As human beings, we deeply crave being heard and understood. To do this for someone is a privilege, and it can lead to some astonishing realisations and innovations. So, the next time your client/colleague/partner/friend comes to you with a problem, spend some time really understanding them first. Together, you might discover and create something exceptional.