The "how instead of what” syndrome.
One of the most nasty problem you my face when working on the
usability of web pages is the fact that it is a very common attitude of
all the stakeholders of the process to come at the table with clear
solutions in mind, but without a clear view of the problem the
solution should solve.
“We want the enroll in mobile service option as an item in the main
menu” or “The account balance should be red and blinking” are NOT correct way
to expose a desire, would be much better ask for “having a mechanism to get
more customer enrolled in the mobile service” and “we need to give more
visibility to the account balance in that specific page”.
Each requests should come from specific facts: “some customer do not know
they need to enrol on the web site to get the mobile services” and “some
customer make errors because in the page XYZ the indication of balance is not
A very interesting poetry written by Rudyard Kipling says1 :
This rule has been applied to journalism: a news without all this elements,
they call them Five Ws and one H, is not considered complete.
In reality the concept is much older and theorized by different thinkers. Among them Ermagora di
Temno, 200 years before Christ, Cicero, Tomaso d’Aquino: “Quis, quid, ubi, per quos, quoties, cur,
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The concept applies very well to the topic we are discussing: WHY and WHAT
comes before HOW and after the HOW is defined a working program may be set
up putting together WHEN, WHERE and WHO.
THIS is the correct way to proceed.
This syndrome may be considered as a corollary of a much more general and
diffused syndrome, the "problem solving before problem setting" one. When we
do face a problem we have the desire of solving it as soon as possible and so
there is a tendency to begin solving it immediately: sometimes we start before
having a good knowledge of the problem and of constraints and situation. This
approach is a very good method to build up a disaster!
So next time you are in a meeting and somebody, let say from the marketing
department, comes up with a “I want it red” go to the whiteboard and write the
world RED, circle it and side of the circle write WHY:.... and WHAT:....
After you have got that basilar informations apply all your usability design skills
and expertise to fulfil the the request for a red element taking in account also
the standardization rules of the whole system. Most probably, at the end, the
answer to the desiderata will not be red, will be something else!
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