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Multiple Perspective Problem Framing: Improving The Innovation Process
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Multiple Perspective Problem Framing: Improving The Innovation Process

Multiple Perspective Problem Framing: Improving The Innovation Process

Multiple Perspective Problem Framing is about taking advantage of how everyone has a unique view of seeing things.

Not all your colleagues share the same perspective, and it is good to remember that things are usually not black and white, right or wrong.

The same is valid for design when there is a problem to solve. We call this concept Multiple Perspective Problem Framing.

The idea is to see a problem through different mindsets and perspectives so that we can increase the creative and innovative process.

Keep reading to learn more about this concept!

UX design and problem solution

We like to iterate that UX design is not about aesthetics and the looks of a product.

UX Design is about improving people's quality of life; providing solutions to problems we encounter in our everyday lives. These problems can either be easy or very complex to solve.

Therefore, one of the designers' main responsibilities is researching and identifying the obstacles we need to overcome in order to achieve our desired goals. For that, they need to build prototypes, test and iterate. They can either create new products or upgrade existing ones.

Double Diamond and other Design processes can help a lot in the discovery phase, the stage where designers investigate users, their needs, and problems.

To know more about Design Thinking, you can read these:

However, despite the effectiveness of these methodologies, they usually analyze the problem from one single perspective.

Multiple Perspective Problem Framing (MPPF) is appropriate if you want to consider other points of view and objectives.

A different approach: Multiple Perspective Problem Framing

Multiple Perspective Problem Framing is a template, a tool that allows designers to see different perspectives of the same problem.

MPPF's objective—described by its author, Stuart English—is to identify values and study a problem or context from different perspectives.

a headshot of Stuart English, the author of multiple perspective problem framing, with a whiteboard full of writings on the back.
Stuart English – Source: Northumbria University

In this context, values mean business opportunities that meet commercial and strategic objectives and the clients' and users' needs.

Besides, because of its investigative approach, Multiple Perspective Problem Framing encourages designers to think creatively. This way, the work goes beyond what has to be done and focuses on how to do it.

Reading tip: UX Design – Science or Art?

How does Multiple Perspective Problem Framing work?

Stuart English is an innovative design specialist, a professor at Northumbria University, and responsible for developing the Multiple Perspective Problem Framing approach.

English has described interesting concepts and visions that help understand what MPPF is. He doesn't describe a step-by-step plan but whether explains concepts that support MPPF.

The author addresses subjects as:

  1. Creating value through design;
  2. Problem space;
  3. Cornerstones of innovation.

1) Creating value through design

Design is essential in developing products that provide value for people, meet their needs, and help them solve their problems.

UX Design can increase a product's value by improving its features, functionalities, and usability. This way, a product that has been upgraded provides more opportunities for users to solve their problems or complete their tasks.

However, designers should also remember that there is more than one source of value to be considered in a product. Multiple Perspective Problem Framing regards these different sources as:

  • Functional value: the product's functionalities help users;
  • Experiential value: the user experience on how the product works and solves users' problems;
  • Social meaning value: the social status the product provides to its users.

From an innovative perspective, a product with high points in all of these three values is rare. Therefore, the idea is to use this concept to identify the best value strategy for the product.

2) Problem Space

English and his colleagues Nathan and Whitcome have drawn a model considering the three types of value described above.

This model is called Problem Space Diagram, and it is a tool that focuses on the relationship between the values instead of a single point of view.

So, the Problem Space Diagram contemplates the Context and the What and How behind a product's development.

Multiple Perspective Problem Framing: a circle image showing How in the center, problem space on top, context on the bottom and what on the left side.
Problem Space Diagram by English, Natham e Whitcome

In the picture above, see that the functional value (what) is constrained, so the experiential value (how) ends up with more space.

Does this mean the functionality and features of a product must be left aside? Sure not! This is exactly the primary MPPF's objective: to organize all values in order to have an efficient innovation process.

Integrated Mind Map

We can work with the Integrated Mind Map from the Problem Space Diagram, based on Tony Buzan's Mind Mapping.

Buzan has created a Mind Map as a tool to unleash ideas and increase creativity. But Buzan's version is built from one single perspective.

an image illustrating buzan's mind map
Buzan's Mind Map

The Integrated Mind Map provides designers with a structure to take a flexible view of the problem space. And as the map incorporates multiple inquiry centers, they are free to move their subjective viewpoint to any other point.

This allows the designer to see the problem from different standpoints, thus, unlocking opportunities for innovation.

Stuart English claims that designers can use the Integrated Mind Map to:

  • develop and communicate a cognitive structure related to a field of study;
  • explore team awareness regarding the problem and possible solutions;
  • examine the situation from other perspectives;
  • identify different solutions from different perspectives;
  • align different ideas.
a graphic image illustrating Stuart English's Integrated Mind Map
Stuart English's Integrated Mind Map

MPPF involves collecting data from different perspectives and synthesizing them into one dynamic map of interrelated factors, called a value arena.

The organizations can then determine their commercial value by mapping relevant data about the company, available technology, and commercialization onto a single canvas. This allows designers to evaluate potential strategies with a broad context and interrelated factors.

Because design problems are complex and fluid, designers need to find ways to focus their attention on what matters while excluding what does not matter. This involves creating ways of seeing the interrelating issues as problem space.

Designers use many tools and methods to frame problems, like sketches, storyboards, mood boards, and mental models. However, the important key factors in value innovation are best communicated and understood through a process of concept mapping.

However, despite the benefits of the Integrated Mind Map, if a map develops too many inquiry centers, it can be complex to focus our attention properly. In this case, we may compensate by choosing to see the problem or situation in a particular way.

Reading tip: UX Research – A Key Role In Product Design

3) Cornerstones of Innovation

Cornerstones of Innovation is about how many cornerstone issues designers can tackle when dealing with a design problem in MPPF without loading their cognitive capacity.

Whitehead suggests that designers should only cover a maximum of 6 or 7 cornerstone issues and that the potential for innovation is dictated by how these slots are filled.

By combining these concepts, designers can bring value factors within the 6 or 7 issues of their immediate attentional memory span to frame the problem in a way that releases potential for innovation.

Each cornerstone relates to a single value (functional, experiential, or social meaning) or to correlated factors important for product development.

How Multiple Perspective Problem Framing impacts business

When UX design is understood as a fundamental piece of product development, its influence on business strategy also increases.

When working with Multiple Perspective Problem Framing, we consider several perspectives that help businesses without putting UX Design aside.

In this sense, using the Integrated Mind Map considering business strategies makes the innovation process sustainable and benefits the company.

Jay Galbraith (1995) built the Star Model in which he categorizes 5 business policies under a concept that he called Organizational Design.

A pentagram image, in each point of the star a word, they are: strategy, structure, processes, reward, people, strategy.
Jay Galbraith's Star Model

Each of these policies plays an important role, as follows:

  1. Strategy: related to business objectives;
  2. Structure: related to the org chart and where decisions are made;
  3. Processes: related to the information flow;
  4. Reward: related to people's motivation;
  5. People: related to skills and employees' mindset.

These five factors are already enough to build an Integrated Mind Map. But you can combine these factors with other organizational attributes that are more focused on performance, like the ones mentioned by De Waal:

  • Organizational Design;
  • Strategy;
  • Organizational Processes;
  • Technology;
  • Leadership;
  • Roles and Responsibilities;
  • Culture;
  • Environment.

The important thing is to use different points of view, combined with the Multiple Perspective Problem Framing, Problem Space Diagram, and the Integrated Mind Map to identify problems and find solutions that meet business objectives without harming the design and user experience.

This approach is powerful for disruptive innovation processes and leveraging business results. Stuart English has applied MPPF since 2002 and has helped many companies to develop new products, resulting in a tremendous intellectual property portfolio.

Final thoughts

The Multiple Perspective Problem Framing is a powerful approach to innovation. Moreover, understanding and interpreting problems and situations help companies to facilitate a paradigm shift.

Because sometimes, all we need to do is see things from a different perspective.

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