Recently a design colleague suggested to “Fall in love with the problem, not the solution” and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

Falling in love with the solution is easy because we had everything to do with it — it came from us. But when this happens, it’s difficult to see anything else. Our solution becomes the only way the problem can be solved, even though we know better. Pretty soon we start nurturing our solution to grow something fantastic only to find we’ve been creeping in features and design dazzles that really had no relation to the initial problem. Eventually we end up with a quasi solution that looks exactly like what we wanted, but didn’t actually solve the problem that was forgotten long ago.

Instead, let’s fall in love with the problem. The problem wasn’t ours, it’s often not found by us, and it seems to appear when we think we’ve got it all under control. So how do we fall in love with that? Isn’t love supposed to be about beautiful smells, flowers blooming, and fluffy emotions radiating throughout? Problems suck. They drain us of life. But hey, let’s fall in love with them anyways.

When we fall in love with someone, we tend to spend our time with them. We focus on the details and become selfless to the point of self-sacrificing our own needs to provide for the recipient of our affection. Can we do this with a problem? For sure! We need to spend time examining the problem, and empathizing with the people who are experiencing it. Our focus is directed to the whys and hows of the problem itself. And finally we’re willing to sacrifice our own desires for the resolution of the problem. This means that the solution becomes what’s best for the person experiencing the problem, not what’s best based on my own personal viewpoint.

This involves being scrappy. To love the problem and not the solution means that solutions become a dime-a-dozen. Ideas start flowing with possibilities. I’m not attached to the solution, I’m attached to the problem. Scrappiness becomes the nature by which we rapidly produce solutions that favor the user’s needs rather than our highbrow standards. And this is okay. This is where we start.

This encouragement is happening at Automattic where I work. Being scrappy is how we find solutions for the problems we love so much. We’re willing to sacrifice and immerse ourselves into the problem for the sake of our users. Existing patterns and limitations don’t necessarily restrict us when we’re scrappy. All ideas get put on the table. Our scrappy solutions get thrown into the mix, juggled around, and many of them get tossed out, but because we understand they’re scrappy to begin with, we aren’t emotionally invested.

Scrappiness is happiness.

Posted by Mark Uraine

I design.