Design Thinking Part 2 : How to clearly define problems encountered by your users

In one of my previous posts about the “Design Thinking” process, we learned how to empathize to help isolate problems and ideas from users of our digital application. If you need a reminder to understand what is Design Thinking, I invite you to read this previous article.

Today, for the second phase, the « Define » stage of the Design Thinking process, we are going to learn with 3 simple methods how to synthesize our observations from stage 1 to clearly define underlying problems and write problem statements.

A great definition of a problem statement will guide us and our team’s work and kick start the ideation process (third stage) in the right direction.

During this « Define » stage, we want to organise, interpret, and make sense of the data we have gathered to determine and to put words on most frequent problems experienced by our users.

In other words, the Define stage is to clarify the problem, to understand what needs to be solved.

Clarification helps answering following questions :

“What kind of problem?, What’s happening out there? Who’s involved? What does that really mean?” The problem has to be defined clearly to be able to respond to it in the most effective and relevant way.

Once again, I am not the creator of the “Design Thinking” process (just a huge fan of IDEO and the process). I try with this post to summarize what tools and resources I found useful for my projects and I greatly encourage you to research deeper into subjects that might be relevant for your project.


How to define your problem statement ?

I will detailed below 3 methods and tools from IDEO and « » that might help you to clearly define your problem statement.

  • The Empathy map
  • The point of view statement
  • The brainstorming session with « How Might We »


First method : The Empathy map

empathy map

An empathy map consists of four quadrants which reflect the four key traits that the users demonstrated/possessed during the observation stage. The four quadrants refer to what the users: Said, Did, Thought, and Felt.

Determining what the users said and did are relatively easy; however, determining what they thought and felt is based on careful observation of how they behaved and responded to certain activities or conversations.

This “Empathy map” method is for me really interesting because she forces us to ask good questions and to put ourselves in the shoes of our users to measure precisely the pain points and frustrations they encounter.

Discover more details about the Empathy map on the dschool (Stanford) website :


Second method : The Point Of View Statement

Once we defined our empathy maps, we can now use them to define “Point Of View” statements.

POV statements are created by making sense of who the users are, what their needs are, and the insights that come from the empathy map we just described.

We can articulate our POV by inserting our information about our user, the needs and our insights in the following sentence:

[User . . . (descriptive)] needs [need . . . (verb)] because [insight. . . (compelling)]

point of view statement

Thanks to this method, problems and pain points of our users are now clearly identified and defined.

Discover more details about the POV statement on the dschool (Stanford) website :


Third method : The brainstorming session with HMW : « How Might We »

Once we have defined our problem using the POV method, we can start to generate ideas to solve the potential problem. We can start using our POV by asking a specific question starting with: “How Might We” or “In what ways might we”.

How Might We (HMW) questions are questions that have the potential to spark ideation sessions such as brainstorms.

You are now in the right direction to solve your problems.

Discover more details about the HMW method on the dschool (Stanford) website :



Defining your users’s problems more precisely will help you to earn precious time. Don’t underestimate anymore productivity loss due to undesired features development. Focus on what really matter.

I hope you enjoyed this post and be sure I will quickly write about the stage 3 of the « Design Thinking Process », the « Ideation process ».

As always, I wish you my best for your digital projects.