Introduction to Design Problems and Contexts 

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Thinking about design problems and contexts

Designers don’t just randomly design something and hope it sells. They identify problems and work out solutions to them in the form of a product or a system. 

Design problems, both big and small are all around us. When thinking about design problems to solve designers often start by looking at the bigger picture of a situation (sometimes called a context). They might for example, observe people in different places and doing different things to identify problems people face and evaluate how they might solve that problem. 

Thinking about design problems and contexts can be hard as it often feels like there’s no real answer or direction. See this as a good thing as it makes us think in different and unexpected ways and often leads to better and more innovative ideas.  

Identifying the right problem to solve is also important as solving a problem where one doesn’t really exist, or where there are already lots of solutions, means a product will have no real purpose. 

When starting to identify a design problem it’s important to avoid just going with the first design problem and then trying to find a quick solution. Let ideas bounce around for a while to see where they lead and look beyond the obvious. Don’t fixate on your first thoughts (called design fixation) and consider all thoughts, including the weird and wacky ones. 


#ThinkDo

  • Use these activities to develop your thinking about different design contexts. The focus of the handouts is on different spaces indoors and outdoors. Click on the images to download the handout.
Design context - spaces - hotel lobby

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Design context - spaces - concert seating

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Design context - spaces - community gym

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Design context - spaces - child's room

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  • The handouts above focus on different indoor and outdoor spaces. What other design contexts can you think of e.g. linked to transportation and people needing to move around or linked to well-being and different ways people might keep themselves healthy. Use a similar format to the one on the sheet to create your own mind map of ideas for a range of different design contexts. 


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