We regularly need to solve problems or make decisions to meet challenges in our industries, controlled by market dynamic forces. If we did not identify the right problem, then the solution will fail. We need to question the problem. Due to time constraints, most of us jump soon into the solution. As a result, we often make “satisfying” or “good enough” choices and lose the opportunity to make high impact solutions. As a designer, we are taught to spend a considerable amount of time in diagnosing the right problem.

See the image below

Is it Flip or Flop? How to identify the right one and solve?

Problem Reframe Example 01

Let me tell you a story which I have heard during my childhood –

Occupants of an OLD Multi-storeyed building were complaining about the old and slow elevator since waiting times during peak hours were excessively long. If the problem stated as “Elevator is slow”, then the solution would be to change any parts like motor, pulley, rope to make it faster or install a new elevator itself. Let us reframe.

Design Thinking – Think from user’s perspective.

Why is the user getting irritated when waiting for the elevator? Because elevator takes a longer time to arrive. Similarly, It takes a longer time to reach his floor?

  1. One problem would be – The user is idle while waiting, and the unoccupied time feels longer than occupied time. So, the problem here is How will you engage the User?

In that story, they installed Mirrors inside the lift. There were no complaints after installation.

To keep the users engaged, we can consider alternate options too – A Small TV with News shown, An FM radio, Couple of newspapers.

2. The second problem could be uncertainty due to unknown waiting time- Uncertainty increases anxiety – Anxiety makes the user perceive longer waiting time. How to solve this? Can you inform them the exact time the elevator would arrive?

3. Third problem – Peak Hour Crowd. Can you stagger the timings of different departments?

Problem Reframe Example 02

A few years back, IKEA was facing problem in the shortage of manpower for their stores. Being a low-cost furniture manufacturer, they had their own limitations. Customers were frustrated for waiting to get the ordered furniture from the warehouse. IKEA changed the problem from “Scarcity of employees” to “Idle time of Customers”. Customers were frustrated – they were waiting and idle. Can we engage them? How to engage them – Radio, Magazines – or, Can we ask them to go and pick up the furniture from the warehouse? And thus, IKEA’s legendary business model “Customer’s Self Pickup” is born.

Problem Reframe Example 03

Gordon Murray, working at Brabham is a Formula One Racing Car designer. He had constant pressure to maintain a vital performance edge through design over the ‘Enemy’ in the race. Design budgets at Brabham were relatively small, perhaps one-third of budgets of bigger teams.

Instead of seeing Financial constraint as a problem, Gordon reframed the problem – How can I reduce the parts and also weight? How can I carry fewer spares? How can I do less testing and maintain stricter quality?

When every other designer is looking at how to increase the speed, Gordon looked at the problem – How to make the car lighter? Lighter the car, the faster it can accelerate or decelerate. Can we run the car with only a little over half level of fuel, instead of filling a full tank and a pit stop for refueling? At that time, pitstops were only for emergencies. Gordon Murray innovated by introducing a planned pit stop for refueling during a race.

There was another challenge – When you put new tires during planned pit stop, the tires were cold, and it takes two laps to get back to the speed, and considerable time lost in the race. How to save the time? Gordon redefined the problem into how to keep the tire hot? He made a gas-fired heater, which kept tires at 70 degrees and they opened and assembled as soon as the car arrives at the pit stop.

Problem Reframe Example 04

One of my friends has a toy shop. He had been selling his toys at a price well lower than his competitor shop, but still within profitable margins. One day, his competitor had threatened him for selling at such a price. He got stuck in dilemma of solving the problem of threats from the competitor guy.

I asked my friend to think from his competitor’s perspective.

“Why is he getting angry at you?”

“Because I’m selling the same product at a lower price and he thinks it will affect his business.”

“Did you note “SAME” in your answer?”


“Are you saying the problem is “Product Being Same”?. But we are sourcing the product from a common vendor. I cannot change the product”

Here, the real problem is customer acquisition and not the competitor. He is actually grabbing customers than creating customers. He has to redefine the problem to create customers. Lowering price to grab customers is not a sustainable tactic.

If he thinks of creating customers – then the scope to generate ideas widen

Example- 50% discount for next two products if customers can share videos of kids using the toy. 25% discount for Kids who are environmentally conscious. 25% discount if the kid has participated in any social programs like “Save the Tiger” campaign. These are some rough examples – We are still selling at a lower cost than the competitor, but we are showing as discount and justifying the discounts with social reasons, which can enhance our value in customer’s eye and the customer can spread the word to his friends. His competitor too cannot argue with him.

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