GuidesUser experience (UX)Problem statements: Everything you need to know

Problem statements: Everything you need to know

Last updated

12 February 2023

Reviewed by

Jean Kaluza

Creating an effective problem statement is an important step when you’re considering a new product. It helps you to decide whether the product will meet an existing need of your target audience.

Read on to discover what a problem statement is, why you need one, and how you can create an effective problem statement in user experience (UX).

What is a problem statement?

A problem statement describes the specific problem or pain point your target audience is experiencing.

This statement identifies:

  • Your ideal user

  • What they are attempting to achieve

  • A specific problem they frequently run into while trying to meet those goals

  • Ideas for potential solutions to those problems

You can use your problem statement as the basis for designing a product that will improve your target audience's user experience by solving that problem.

Keep in mind that this early phase in the product development process is focused on the user and the need you want your product to fulfill, not the design of the product itself.

Why is a problem statement important?

Products created for a specific purpose are more likely to appeal to your target audience than those developed without a goal in mind. A strong problem statement can ensure each of your products aligns with something your target audience is looking for.

When should I create a problem statement?

Bringing a new product from an idea to market involves a complex series of steps, known as the Design Thinking process. This process is used throughout the whole product journey, from brainstorming and design to development and production.

The five stages of the Design Thinking process are:

  1. Empathize

  2. Define

  3. Ideate

  4. Prototype

  5. Test

The Empathize phase is the most research-heavy element of the design process. This is when you learn about your target audience and what they are looking for in a new product. The Define phase is when you work out how to best respond to the information gained in the Empathize phase.

The most effective problem statements are created during the Define stage. A quality problem statement ensures that ideas your team brainstorms during the third stage will serve the specific purpose you want them to.

Waiting too long to clearly define your problem may mean that what your team thought was an ideal solution may not address the exact issue your audience is facing. Brainstorming ideas without a problem statement may get you close to solving your target audience’s problem, but it will be much more difficult to zero in on exactly what your users want from your product.

Benefits of a strong problem statement

Creating a strong problem statement at the start of a product development project can benefit your company and your customers in many ways.

Here are some of the most significant reasons why defining what need you are fulfilling with your future product can increase the likelihood of success.

Identifying the goals of your project

Starting a product development project with little direction or understanding of your end goal can prevent you from fulfilling its potential. A new product may have some success if you have a vague idea of its purpose, but knowing the exact goals of a particular product from the beginning, for your potential buyers and your company, will significantly increase your likelihood of achieving them.

Guiding your product development team

A strong problem statement can be a helpful guide for your product development team throughout every stage of the design process. When several people are working on your product design and development, it’s not always easy to keep everyone united during the process of bringing your vision to life.

Your problem statement serves as a reminder of your specific goals, as well as a stepping stone to help your developers draft and finalize your design and turn an early prototype into a tangible finished product.

For example, if your development team builds a front-end library of elaborate animations to enhance the feature, but your problem statement sights low Wi-Fi or loading problems as issues, the team can agree to keep the code as light as possible to reduce loading time.

Gaining support for your product

Potential products often need to show much promise early in the development process to obtain the necessary funding to get the product off the ground. Designing and developing a new product can require a significant amount of money, long before you see any profit. Raising the money you need to get started can be difficult if you can’t show strong evidence that your finished product will bring a strong ROI.

A problem statement that clearly shows potential investors, crowdfunders, and other donors why your product is valuable can convince them that supporting your product is worthwhile.

How to write a problem statement in UX

You can take a few different approaches to create your problem statement. The Five Ws, the Five Whys, and fill-in-the-blank are the most common methods companies use to formulate the specific problem they want to address.

The Five Ws

A good technique for building your problem statement is to ask specific questions that help you determine the desired outcome of your product. Use the information gathered about your target audience during the Empathize stage to answer these questions. This will lead you to the problem you want to address and how you might solve it.

Ask these questions:

  • Who does the problem affect? (your target audience)

  • What is the specific problem your target audience is experiencing?

  • Where does your target audience typically experience this problem and where will they primarily be using your product to solve it? (e.g. in their home or business)

  • Why is finding a solution to this particular problem important to your target audience?

  • When does the problem occur?

Considering these questions can give you an idea of:

  • Whether the problem is important enough to your target audience to purchase your product to solve it

  • Whether it is an ideal solution for the circumstances under which they generally experience the problem

  • Whether your proposed solution will actually solve the problem

  • Whether your product will be a good fit for your target audience

The Five Whys

This technique works similarly to the Five Ws, but it digs deeper into the intended purpose of your product.

The Five Whys technique asks a series of at least five questions that build upon the previous question. This helps your team push toward a very specific problem instead of going with something too broad that may not be unique to your company.

Each question must begin with the word "why," and it challenges the previous question by repeatedly asking why that progressively smaller problem exists.

This technique is effective because the true solution to a broad problem may be vastly different from what your team might expect it to be. Breaking the initial problem down into a more targeted issue allows you to create a problem statement that is as specific as possible.

Fill-in-the-blank

This method starts with using your research to identify three specific pieces of information. These are used to fill in the blanks of a template sentence to quickly create an effective problem statement.

The three pieces of information are:

  • The intended user of your product

  • The challenge or problem that your product will solve for your user

  • The goal that fulfilling that need will allow your user to accomplish

Simply insert the three items into this sentence to create your problem statement:

"[A user] needs [need] in order to accomplish [goal]."

This method generally results in a more basic problem statement than the Five Ws or Five Whys techniques. This makes it ideal if you want to address a broader problem, although problem statements that are as specific as possible are more likely to result in successful products. This technique also provides a helpful starting point if you don’t have the time or resources to create something more specific.

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