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Design Process – Defining a Problem

By Brian Gates, President of Design My Idea

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to present at the International Invention Expo on the subject of design as it relates to your invention. This was a great opportunity that led to some excellent questions on how you can better the process of inventing. Each week I will continue this discussion through these articles, as well as online through the forum.

Step 1 – Defining the Problem

Every product, invention or idea solves a problem in one fashion or another. This “problem” is commonly why people seek out these products and also why inventors like you continue to drive innovation.  However, have you taken the time to really look at what the problem is rather than the solution? Many inventors gloss over defining the actual problem and going forward with their first design because it meets their immediate needs. By exploring and detailing the various components of what you are solving, you create the criteria to effectively judge, validate and market your product. In addition, you may discover alternative solutions that solve different aspects of the problem better than your original design.

 What Should I do?

Just as a journalists asks the who, what, where, when and why for their articles you should do the same for your problem. Take for example this situation:

An individual has a cup of noodle soup in front of them and only has access to one utensil in order to eat it.

Now your immediate response to this problem maybe to use a spork. It has prongs to grab the noodles and a concaved surface to drink the soup; problem solved. But before we go on our way to sell this idea, let’s go back a step and look at what we are trying to solve.  In its most basic sense our problem is: We want to eat soup containing noodles with only one utensil. From that statement we can develop this list of criteria:

1)      Be able to consume liquid

2)      Be able to consume noodles

3)      Be able to consume other items (chicken, vegetables…)

4)      Must be a self contained utensil

5)      Bowl must remain on the table

Now let’s start asking ourselves the basic questions as it relates to our problem:

1)      Who is typically experiencing our problem?

2)      What causes the situation?

3)      Where is this problem experienced?

4)      When do people have this problem?

5)      Why is there a need?

These questions will help to further define the various aspects of the problem and prove to be extremely valuable throughout your entire design process. Next week we will continue on to brainstorming using our well-defined problem as a basis for generating solutions. Over the next several weeks you will see how very important a well-defined problem is to your design.


Brian Gates is the president of Design My Idea, LLC.  To learn more visit  Otherwise inventors can email at or call toll free at 800-862-0546.