Originally posted Aug. 9, 2014 (graphics are updated though)

This might seem old school for those who are keen on starting their design thinking challenge with a How Might We… question however for me, I am just not a fan.  Six years, I began my design thinking path by devouring anything and everything I could find on the ‘net and practicing DT at every opportunity.  As I am currently flying home after my 3rd thankful adventure at the d.School, my practice and honing of my design thinking craft stays true to my foundation. The design thinking challenges I tackled during my first trip to the d.School were Campus Safety & Health Care Experience. These two challenges were framed just enough to keep me in a beginner’s mindset yet I also had enough content knowledge to start some conversations with Users during needfinding. They simply were given just as I stated, “Campus Safety” & “Health Care Experience”.

Lately, the How Might We statement seems to be taking such a dominate role in shaping & defining the design challenge at the very beginning, I feel the challenge has already been narrowed before it has even gone to the users. In DEEPdt, the design challenge is one to a few words to give designers a touchstone into the Discover mode. I have seen designers fall in love with their challenge “topic” due to the time and attention spent on the How Might We Statement… before ever even considering their Users. How can we frame the question with such wordsmithing when it is the User(s) who should be guiding our framing…

Now just to be clear, I am speaking about a How Might We question used to launch design challenges…. Not the HMW… that comes after defining a need for your User at the bridge between Empathize and Experiment modes. It is here where designers reframe their design challenge based on the needs of their User. And it is here where the HMW…question is invaluable and vital to the flow of DEEPdt. 


What I find that happens is designers fall in love with their HMW… (and their solution), not their User. If the Beginner’s Mindset ever does get distorted, its a sad state when it happens before a conversation is even initiated with an actual User. I want the designer to fall in love with their user.

I always go back to the quote by Martin Moran, “So many Solutions looking for Problems.” And I will follow that quote up with another one… “So many HMW… questions looking for Users.” I say unpack the design challenge, don’t engrave it.  Let the User make the etchings, the carvings, deepen the cracks, and engrave their needs.

At Mount Vernon Presbyterian School, the Upper School had three Widely Important goals for their school year. Today TJ Edwards and James Campbell lead the #MVUpper team though a DEEPdt FlashLab (aka crash challenge of DEEPdt) on one of their WIGs. Their design challenge was,

“Nourish Self, Cultivate Team.”

Through the FlashLab there are tools for designers to Discover their challenge called Spidea & Rose, Bud, Thorn. After running a FlashLab last week, I thought that there might be times when the challenge needs an “unpacking”.  I recalled a time in February when a d.TEAM of faculty members were beginning a design challenge where they had “unpacked” the words to help them have a clearer understanding of the actual words without limiting/narrowing the challenge. So I created a tool simply called:  UNPACK IT. The FlashLab is designed to be run in pairs, small groups, as well as a hybrid of the two where at times there is small group, independent, and pair play throughout the challenge. UNPACK IT is utilized in small group play as a way to understand the verbiage of the words of the challenge. 

I guess I will wrap my thoughts with this… If we stay true to the practice of design thinking, we will let the User(s) lead us. If we stay present, try to understand, and self-connect with others, we will find empathy for another. And it is in these moments, the How Might We… questions will come easily and find us from our Users.