A Different Lens

Excerpts & Ideas from Reframe: Shift the Way You Work, Innovate, and Think


Last week we covered how to get to the root of a problem that is both worth solving and ultimately well-defined. We believe that starting with the real problem is the first step to getting yourself unstuck when approaching ideation and problem-solving and is the starting point for our “Reframework” process that me and my team at Motivate Design have been working on. This week we will dive into how we’ve used our experience as a UX firm to help clients and the broader public through the recent publication of Reframe: Shift the Way You Work, Innovate, and Think.

We will be highlighting our process through a series of posts on the Innovation Channel in an effort to spread this way of thinking. The key to this framework, however, is to trust in the process, so follow us from the beginning as we cover the all of the steps every Friday for the upcoming weeks all leading up to the Chief Innovation Summit in NYC on December 8-9. I hope to see you there!

Now that you’ve clearly defined your problem, it’s time to look at it from different points of view. Removing yourself from the center of the problem will open your eyes to different solutions.


Great designs start with the user. An Empathy Map encourages exploration of all the facets of the user’s world so that, as a designer or problem solver, you see things from the user’s perspective. It allows you to immerse yourself in what’s known and to understand what the user needs. It can also help you identify any biases or stereotypes that might be getting in your way. In each section, fill out the following:

See: What is in the physical space around them? Where are they? Who else is there? What else is there? Describe the environment.

Do: What actions and behaviors are involved in the process? What are the actions that happen before and after the main task?

Think: What is your user thinking (and not saying)? What subconscious thoughts might they be having? What does this tell you about their beliefs or values?

Say: What comes out of the user’s mouth during the experience? What are they muttering under their breath?

Feel: What emotions is the user feeling? What would they tell someone, and what are more intense emotions that might be kept a secret?

Hear: What sounds are present in the environment? What are some quotes and defining words your user would say? What ambient noises augment or interfere with the user’s experience? What is said around them?


Empathy Maps are commonly used, but often not well. When we simplify other people’s behaviors in ways that help us understand them, we may just be tricking ourselves. Often we are projecting our own baggage onto them. Simplifying too much leads us to hear what we want to hear and essentially do what we want to do versus what we need to do. If this happens, then we are not really stepping into the shoes of another, moving forward with empathy. So, is it empathy (feeling what they feel, achieving oneness, a sense of unity with others about their view, experience, etc.) or is it projection (having the illusion of understanding their view when it’s really just a way of seeing our own perspectives and biases from a different lens)? Designers put themselves in the user’s shoes, but they are still seeing the world through their own eyes.

A Problempathy Map is our custom-designed solution (i.e.,we made it up) to this. It forces designers to look at a problem from an angle that is so different from their own that it sparks the understanding, empathy, and creativity that we are looking for. Let’s say you were designing a new mobile phone. Personify the mobile phone itself, describe what you want and what stops you from getting it. The formula is simple: I want to X (goals), but Y (barriers).

I want to be _______ but __________.

I want to make ______ but _________.

I want to feel ________ but _________.

I want to bring ________ but ________.

I want to ____ but _______.

I don’t want to ______ but ________.

The purpose of these exercises is to help provide clarity as to what the opportunity spaces are for the given problem you’re tackling. Next week we’ll be looking at why we focused on asking “what if?” and how we use Funnel Vision™ to help hone in on what your next steps might be.


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