The "how instead of what” syndrome.

Working on usability and UX Design of web page you will face a very comon probrlem: the attitude of many of the stakeholders of the process to come at the table with clear solutions in mind, but without a clear view of the problem the solution should solve.

“We want the enroll in mobile service option as an item in the main menu” or “The account balance should be red and blinking” are NOT correct way to expose a desire, would be much better ask for “having a mechanism to get more customer enrolled in the mobile service” and “we need to give more visibility to the account balance in that specific page”.

Each requests should come from specific facts: “some customer do not know they need to enrol on the web site to get the mobile services” and “some customer make errors because in the page XYZ the indication of balance is not enough visible”.

A very interesting poetry written by Rudyard Kipling says[1]:

This rule has been widly applied to journalism: a story without all this elements, they call them Five Ws and one H, is not considered complete.

The concept applies very well to the topic we are discussing: WHY and WHAT comes before HOW and after the HOW is defined a working program may be set up putting together WHEN, WHERE and WHO.


THIS is the only correct way to proceed!


This syndrome may be considered as a corollary of a much more general and diffused syndrome, the "problem solving before problem setting" one. When we do face a problem we have the desire of solving it as soon as possible and so there is a tendency to begin solving it immediately: sometimes we start before having a good knowledge of the problem and of constraints and situation. This approach is a very good method to build up a disaster!


So next time you are in a meeting and somebody, let say from the marketing department, comes up with a “I want it red” go to the whiteboard and write the world RED, circle it and side of the circle write WHY:.... and WHAT:....


After you have got that basic informations apply all your usability design skills and expertise to fulfil the request for a red element taking in account also the standardization rules of the whole system. Most probably, at the end, the answer to the desiderata will not be red, will be something else, and everybody will be happy!
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[1] In reality the concept is much older and theorized by different thinkers. Among them Ermagora di Temno, 200 years before Christ, Cicero, Tomaso d'Aquino: “Quis, quid, ubi, per quos, quoties, cur, quomodo, quando”.

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