Last Saturday, we opened up our office on Park Avenue to host the first User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA) Workshop in New York.

Attended by 35 UX practitioners, the workshop was led by Indi Young, an empathy-based design researcher in the technology world. The focus was on “Problem Space Research”; an area of research that is growing in support but is still the lesser known cousin of “Solution Space Research”.

So, what’s the difference between ‘problem-facing’ and ‘solution facing’ research and how can each best serve us? Indi explains:


Solution Space Research

Answers the question: “How can a product or service help users?”

Why: To discover and evaluate solution ideas to determine their need and usability.

How: user interviews, contextual research, needs analysis, journey mapping, analytics review, A/B testing and usability testing.

Scenario: I need to book a flight to the Grand Canyon


Problem Space Research

Answers the question: “What are people thinking, feeling, doing and why?”

What: To deeply understand human behavior and intent independent of a solution idea.

How: active listening and observation sessions, mental models and affinity mapping.

Scenario: I’d like to take my mom to the Grand Canyon while I still can.

UXPA diagram

Key learnings from the workshop:

  • Value of Problem Space Research: Exploring problem space research allows deeper insights into people’s true motivations. It’s more than solving task based pain points, it’s a thick, emotional baseline that can make a real difference in someone’s life and direct the entire solution design and delivery.
  • 1 + 1 = Deeper Insights: Both solution space and problem space research styles and approaches complement each other, adding depth to our understanding of human behavior.
  • “People” not just ‘Users’: As soon as you refer to ‘users’, ‘customers’ or ‘patrons’ you’re looking at it from the perspective of your organization. By focusing on ‘people’ who don’t necessarily have a relationship with your organization their intention or purpose comes to the foreground. Problem solution research explores people.
  • Separate Cycles: The two research styles provide the most value when they are conducted independently. Conducting problem space research is valuable once every 1-5 years , providing a bigger picture view about people that has nothing to do with your project.
  • Deep listening: Truly listening to people is an artform that requires you to relinquish control of the discussion and start a conversation which taps into the inner voice of your respondent.
  • Walking in their shoes: To understand people and their purpose we actively listen and try to act and think like them.

After hosting our first UXPA event, I’m so glad that we did. Thank you to Elaine Matthius and the UXPA team for planning the workshop and to everyone who attended. A special thank you to Indi Young for inspiring us and raising the profile of research with people in the real world – something we’re a huge advocate for at Tigerspike.

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