You need to define the word problem.��God knows, we all have problems.But what, exactly, is a problem? Myfavorite definition is that a problemis an unmet need.NEVER PRESENTCREATIVE WORK TO ADECISION MAKERIF YOU HAVEN'T PREVIOUSLYMET AND DISCUSSEDTHE PROBLEM STATEMENT.Needs may be very specific to an indi-vidual or organization, but they growout of broadly shared, basic humanneeds. In A Scientific Theory ofCulture, Bronislaw Malinowski postsseven basic human needs: metabolism,reproduction, comfort, safety, movement, growth andhealth. Problems arise when one of these needs is unmet.Here we begin to distinguish between two parts of a prob-lem, the need and the means of meeting it.In Human Learning, E. L. Thorndike writes that, A prob-�lem can be said to exist if an organism wants somethingbut the actions necessary to achieve it are not immediatelyobvious.In Design Thinking, Peter Rowe points out that�Thorndike's definition gives rise to three general classesof problem: well-defined, or simple; ill-defined, or com-plex; wicked-hard, or unsolvable.Well-defined problems are those in which the need isclearly defined at the outset. Only the means of meetingthe need must be created. Most design school problems fitinto this category. Teachers ask students to design a posterannouncing an event or to design the interface to anelectronic calendar. Both teacher and student make thesomewhat dubious assumption that the poster and elec-tronic calendar meet a need. Ill-defined problems arethose in which both the means and the need are undefinedat the outset. Most professional design projects fit into thiscategory. Unfortunately, most design schools fail to providecourses dealing with ill-defined problems. Wicked-hardproblems are a special class of ill-defined problems. Neitherthe means nor the need is clear, and in addition, theprospect for agreeing on the need is poor. Many socialproblems fall into this category. Crime, poverty and health-care are examples of wicked-hard problems. In the case ofeach of these problems, society has not yet agreed on what
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need is unmet.During the process of defining a problem, a design managermust ascertain which kind of problem he or she faces.Commercial work on wicked-hard problems carries a highrisk and should proceed only with management's under-standing the risk. Conversely, well-defined problemsshould be delegated to less experienced staff. This freesthe design manager to focus on ill-defined problems, wherehe or she can do the most good.Defining real-world problemsThe method that I use to define problems has three parts:collecting input, documenting the need and agreeing onthe definition.Collecting inputWork begins when someone identifies a problem area.
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