I never realized the UX lessons my parents were exposing me to as a teenager. A bloody foot and white carpet may have been one of my first UX lessons.

Rewind to my teenage years:

My dad is a brilliant engineer with the ability to fix almost anything. If you know any skilled handymen, you know they tend to skip safety precautions from time to time. This meant that my dad would occasionally come in the house with a bruised hand, broken bones, and/or the classic razor blade cut.

One day, my mom and I heard my dad coming in the house yelling. When we met him in the front room, we saw a large trail of blood from a severe cut on his foot. Between curse words, he tells my mom to “Do something!” My mom quickly surveyed the situation and immediately went off to get something to help her solve this problem.

Or so we thought.

My mother came back with a large spray bottle of stain remover and a carpet cleaner. She began cleaning the blood from the carpet while my dad’s foot continued to bleed! In her defense, the house was recently re-carpeted with beautiful white carpet. (Initial mistake.)

Fast forward to today:

I realize now that my parents were most likely staging this whole thing to teach me an important lesson. (The things parents do for their children.)

The lesson: Don’t solve the first problem you see. Identify the root of the problem.

Like many people in the creative industry, I pride myself in being a great problem solver. When presented with a problem, my initial instinct is to start sketching out possible solutions. I have to challenge myself to fight the urge to immediately begin solving and spend energy digging for the root of the problem(s).

There are many different methods to get to the root of a problem. Here are a few well known examples:

User research: Imagine you were hired to design a system to help users track inventory. They believe the tools they are using aren’t efficient and they want new software to increase the efficiency of their process. It is tempting to sit down and focus on what they are using, what isn’t working, and begin building something better. Don’t do that. Start with broader questions. Get an understanding about their role in the company, not just their inventory management responsibilities. What are the daily patterns? What are the top challenges? What are the triggers that cause them to need to use this inventory tracking tool? You may find the true problem lies in how the inventory is stored vs the confusing buttons on the software.

The 5 Whys: The 5 Whys is a tool that originated from lean manufacturing, however, it can be applied to almost any problem. It goes something like this:

Write down the problem you are facing.
Ask why the problem happens and write the answer down.
Then ask why again.
Continue to ask why until your team agrees you’ve identified the root cause of the problem.

This is also a very effective way to approach user research. When a user states a problem, ask why and continue to until you feel you have identified the root of the problem.

You can learn more about this right here.

Fishbone diagram (also known as the Ishikawa diagram): This method involves brainstorming many possible causes for a problem. Grouping the potential causes into categories helps drive the discussion, organize the issues, and begin to identify trends.

You can learn more about the Fishbone Diagram here.

Bottom Line – Don’t just soak up the blood. Stop the bleeding.

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