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GuidesResearch methodsExploring the power of "How Might We?" statements

Exploring the power of "How Might We?" statements

Last updated

7 March 2023

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Sometimes, we become so ingrained and so deep into our research projects that we cannot see the forest for the trees. We become, at least we think we do, one with the user. But even though you think you may have all your bases covered, you might not have asked the right questions to identify the right problems.

This is where “How Might We” statements become essential. They are a vehicle that allows you and your team to creatively ask the questions that you need to solve the right problems.

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What are "How Might We" statements?

How Might We statements are important questions that let us challenge our insights and create new problem-solving opportunities. 

We use this phrase during our research to open our minds up to those questions that may be left unasked, therefore, unsolved. They evoke creativity and innovation and allow a collaborative focus on the users' needs, creating a design specifically for the end user.  

If you think of How Might We as an acronym (HMW), it allows you to further break down the meaning of the phrase. Consider this:

  • How (H): This is simple.  How will we solve the problem? In addition, how will we solve it in ways not considered before? The "how" should not have any censored questions or answers, allowing for the questions to be fluid, conversational, and visionary.  It also addresses that we are still actively pursuing a solution to our problem.

  • Might (M): Might implies that solutions may be open-minded and even untried. It can lead to brainstorming and looking for solutions in different ways. The word might also imply that we do not have the answer to the problem.

  • We (W): This may be the most important part of "how might we" because it refers to inclusion and collaboration. Promoting teamwork is solving the issue. Working together could bring up solutions that were never considered before.

"How Might We" turns your challenges into solvable solutions and pulls your team together with a common goal in mind. It opens up opportunities to push your design and allows designers to challenge prior assumptions and make the solutions humancentric.

Different uses of HMW statements

HMW statements can be used in many applications, but most researchers find it most helpful immediately before rapid ideation. Where HMW statements are those short questions that are based on problem areas found during your research, rapid ideation promotes creativity and unanticipated solutions to complex problems. 

By asking "How might we", you are attempting to turn your problems into opportunities or alternative solutions.

Sometimes, when researchers have hit a wall, they may turn to HMW statements to reframe their problem to move forward with new ideas. Too often, designers can get caught up in the design and neglect the user's needs. HMW statements allow you to refocus your attention on the human aspect.

What makes a good HMW question?

How Might We questions should be concise and to the point and should refer to a problem that you have uncovered. They should be broad in scope to allow creativity but not so broad that you lose sight of the problem. They should be unbiased, without predetermined answers, but should track a desired outcome. And above all, they should be written positively.  

By opening up your HMWs, you can allow your team to brainstorm creatively with no boundaries.  You can expect various answers; often, the most useful is the least obvious.

Pitfalls when creating an HMW question

If you follow the guidelines above, you should be successful in creating an HMW question. The easiest way for your HMW to be unsuccessful is to be too broad or too narrow in scope. Keeping your HMW questions on point but open-ended enough to elicit various responses can be a balancing act.

HMW questions that are too broad

Making your HMW question broad opens the discussion to innovative and creative solutions.  However, making the question too broad sometimes can get participants off course or create a diversion simply because it is too vague.  It can allow your team to lose sight of the desired outcome. 

To avoid the pitfalls of an HMW that is too broad, define your mission statement and develop your How Might We question from there.

HMW questions that are too narrow

Conversely, if your HMW question is too narrow, you are stifling your team's creativity and may even lead the team to interpret a predetermined outcome. It is better to open up the HMW question to be broader so that there are openings for more creative responses. Many teams may misinterpret HMWs that are too narrow in scope as having right and wrong areas, which you must avoid.

Running an HMW Process

Running an HMW process is important to completing your research. The first essential component is to identify your mission statement. What is your goal, and what do you hope to accomplish?  

Starting the process

Once you have determined your mission statement, compose it into a general brief and break it down into "How Might We" statements.  Be sure to follow the guidelines for keeping the statements brief, broad, and without prejudice.

During the process

During the process, break down the components of the HMW questions. Enumerate all of the components.  Open the conversation up and brainstorm solutions, encouraging creativity.  Set a time limit and a goal to generate as many ideas as possible.

After the process

Once the process has been completed, analyze the results, leaving yourself with three possibilities. You can repeat the process for a second time to generate additional ideas, recycle your ideas and dig deeper into the solutions, or do more research on your problem before creating another HMW session.

Five tips on writing good HMWs

Writing good HMW statements takes a little practice, research, and a focus on your desired result. Here are five tips that will help you be successful in writing HMWs:

  1. Start with the problems or insights that you have uncovered. This lets you focus on the user's needs. An easy example of determining the problem is to start with your user needs.  

  2. Avoid suggesting a solution in your HMW question. By making your HMW too narrow, you may inadvertently suggest a solution, something you want to avoid.

  3. Keep your HMWs broad.  By keeping your How Might We statements broad, you encourage innovative responses. However, avoid making them so broad that you lose sight of your desired result.

  4. Focus your HMWs on the desired outcome. As described above, never lose sight of your desired result. Be careful not to narrow your scope too much, as it can limit you from working from new perspectives.

  5. Phrase your HMW questions positively. To garner positive, creative responses, always remember to phrase your HMW positively. Instead of stating "How might we fix a broken XYZ?", try "How might we improve the way XYZ works?"

How Might We statement examples

HMW statements can be applied to nearly every industry, demographic, or subject matter. There are many ways that they can be beneficial for researchers. An example could be a new video game. By focusing on all of the tips listed, you could create the following HMWs about the game:

  • How might we make the game more fun?

  • How might we make the game more accessible?

  • How might we make the game more appealing to all ages?

  • How might we improve the graphics of the game?

  • How might we make it easier to play with other gamers?

This keeps the HMWs positive, keeps the statement broad without being too broad, and focuses on improving the game. Though this is a simplistic example, it shows that this application can work for most products and circumstances.

FAQs

What are some "How Might We" examples for students?

Students can ask some of the same HMW questions like any other group. Some examples might be:

  • How might we help employees stay productive while working from home?

  • How might we protect our schools from unapproved visitors?

  • How might we get more people to pay their taxes early?

  • How might we improve access to WiFi for all students?

What is the how might we phase in design thinking?

Designers and researchers use "How Might We" to evaluate and reframe insights into opportunities. They use short, concise questions that leave room for broad, innovative answers, fostering teamwork and collaboration within the design team.

HMW questions are also useful if the designer is stuck and needs responses from those not quite so close to the design, which allows the focus to be on the user.

Is a how might we statement a problem statement?

"How Might We" statements are actually questions that address a problem statement or point of view. They create solutions or ideas that address the problem and are usually creative, broader concepts.

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