Designing The ONE perfect solution

I believe there is one perfect solution to every well defined problem.

Controversial as that may sound, I’ve witnessed two methdologies used by two similar disciplines that attempt to reach this ideal:

  1. Ready, Fire, Aim
    (aka Mud on the wall.) “Ideate” and see what sticks. This is how most people practice ID: volumes of sketches and refinements (re-aiming.)

  2. Ready, Aim Fire
    Long tedius process, but one “big bang” moment when the all-angles requirements give birth to the ideal solution. How Interaction Designers tend to work.

So here’s the questions:
Do you agree that there’s one ideal solution?
What method do you practice? One? Both?
What’s worked well for you? What hasn’t?

i completely agree with the second, Ready, Aim , Fire. i am an ID student with an interaction minor, but i started to prefer that method before i explored the interaction design world. i never got into the hundreds of sketches mode. it may be a personality thing, because i know that there are people out there that need to do that, but i just always find myself sketching in my head. considering options, cancelling out elements that i realize dont work, etc. it doesnt leave much of bulk for pin ups, but its definitely chosing quality over quantity.


Out of the 2, I’d say I was closer to the 2nd one.

I’ve never agreed with that mud on the wall type of ideation. I was taught how to refine my direction, focus on the goal and get to it pretty directly with the majority of the concepts being appropriate to the task. I don’t need to come up with 100 ideas to find 5 solutions to the problem. Out of 10-15 ideas I’ll get 5 totally appropriate ones that satisfy the brief. But that very popular mud technique seems to be one that assumes your designers don’t have good judgement calls. So you have them come up with as many numbers as possible and then the manager or whoever it is that does have the “good judgement” gets to pick what’s appropriate. It’s a good way to have interns or innexperienced designers to work because they normally haven’t developed the good judgement yet. But for anyone with experience I think it’s unnecessary and actually encourages innappropriate designs and lack of focus for the sake of filling up wall space.

I wouldn’t quite agree that there is 1 perfect solution to the problem, there are different ways to skin a cat equally well. But I do agree that there aren’t that many perfect solutions. So with that being said, why there’s such a big emphasis on quantity of barely thought out sketches instead of a directed focus on the goal is beyond me. When I get dressed I don’t need to try on every possible combination of the clothes I have to come up with an appropriate outfit for the occasion.

I’m not sure exactly how the interaction design process is, but the way I do it is to come up with a list of “givens” that the designs have to hit to accomplish the mission, basically focal points. Every concept has to hit those marks, maybe a few only have to hit some marks until we figure how to incorporate the rest. If you take time when developing those criteria, it pays off because all of your concepts will be appropriate. Doing it this way, I’ve never had a comment like “this isn’t right for our customer”, or “yeah it’s cool, but it’s not the direction we want”, etc… The only discussion after is about the more subjective artistic aspects which aren’t exactly right or wrong.

Unfortunately I don’t get to use that process too much anymore. Places seem to follow that “shoot as many bullets as possible in the dark, then see what hits” process. Either that or they do lists and word association, first response techniques to get mass numbers of random ideas to then see what might fit the bill the best. So they get frustrated with me because I’m not generating the volume they want, I get frustrated because they won’t let me think and use my critical thinking, and expect me to draw unfocused concepts that I know are unnappropriate for the sake of having a lot of stuff to choose from. For me it’s bad because I have a more direct and focused mentality. I’m not always buzzing with wild untamed ideas, so I can’t (and don’t want to) turn off my critical thinking and decision-making ability for the sake of generating numbers to then turn over to someone else to think and decide for me.

I don’t know if I’m right, but I believe that a lot of those concept generating techniques were designed to get creative work out of non-creative people. With them, you have them tap into their subconcious so they can come up with “strange” ideas that their “dry mind” normally couldn’t think of. But creative people already have control over that area, so to me they should be working on how to be more focused and to the point with appropriate concepts instead of staying in the untamed realm. The only time I would advise for creatives to do that is when they’re stuck for ideas and can’t get out of a rut. But it shouldn’t be standard practice the way it is in a lot of places. It’s like it was a manual to execs on how to get good work out of your wild, unfocused, crazy designers who don’t have a grasp of reality. To me it’s extra work for no extra benefit except a busy wall and thick process book. Maybe that’s why people get burnt out. I would too if I had to cook a sample of everything in my kitchen to test each one before I make a final decision on what to eat at every meal.

Sorry for my rant, I’m just curious if I’m the only one that feels that way. I get my best work done when I plot, plan, strategize(real word?), and focus on direct goals instead of closing my eyes and swinging wildly.

i enjoy your posts bryce, and i think that this one raises a point of thought.

why dont we treat our field like a scientific one? why do we settle for some level of uncertainty? im not sure that we have to be so wishy washy when making design decisions because we are artists and artists dont have to prove anything. i for one think that the more seriously that we take our work, the more that we can treat it like a science, the more seriously that it will be thought of as a conrete field, and the more necessary it will be seen to clients and others who use our services. theres nothing wrong with trying to think of design in terms of equations and hard logic. also, when we collaborate with the sciences, we see great leaps in innovation and revolutionary concepts.

i see this pertaining to the methodology discussion here as: drop the pens for a while and discuss the design problems and opportunities. attempt to think structurally, and question and validate everything.

its another reason that i say that the second method is the way that i believe should be practiced more. when we start to conceptualize without familiarity to the issue, and without a holistic understanding of how the issue relates to all facets of life (the sciences) then we could be going down paths that lead us to assumption and to misguided design. i dont believe that there is one perfect solution, but i do believe that that big bang moment is when you have creatively solved not only the initial problem, but also have tackled other issues that you have found in this scientific process of researching and experiential testing.

i would agree that the advantage that we have over scientists and engineers is our ability to push the envelope and our playful open-mindedness. with that virtue we are better at this type of exploring that i am talking about.

the best that we can do as designers is to find the truths whenever there is that sense of doubt. when we dont have a reason for deciding on a design element, we must ask ourselves why, and then we have to find the appropriate way to creatively address every intricate part of our designs. knowledge and worldliness is the key to a creative problem solving mind. and the more that we explore, the more worldy and knowledgable that we become.

aim as long as you can, because the last thing that you want to do is miss that bullseye.

that was me above ^

The “design as science” argument is right on.

Bryce, I hear what you’re saying re; “I also believe that you can satisfactorily reach a goal in many different ways.” But I still think there is always one “perfect” solution when you consider the exact context of use at any particular moment. It might be almost inperceptably different, but the edge is there in some way.

I think the argument still holds true in mass-produced scale: If our goal is to create as much desire for the product as possible in a given market, then we must make the product align as perfectly as possible to achieve that goal. Again, the “perfect solution” given the context.

Does that make sense?

This reminds me of Benjamin Franklins famous problem-solving method of writing PRO and CON columns and start crossing off pairs of equal weight attributes. The imbalence and therefore preference was then revealed.


I had a teacher who always said, “The problem, well stated, is half-solved.”

Not sure who said it originally.

But additionally, I find that some ambiguity, or tolerance for “fuzzy” details is valuable too- You don’t get hung up on details that could be solved later to make the bigger picture work.

The problem with ID is about reaching a concensus from designers, vendors, marketing, sales, administration and the jantor. What I think is the best solution is rarely what gets picked for production. Is what get produced the best solution? Probably not. But generaly the design process is about getting buy off from one set of people then the next then the next and so on. Each set of people have there agendas that need to be satisfied. Does this lead to best design? Probably not.

The best design methodology I think is similar to the best political system. I beleive that optimally a benevolent dictatorship is the most efficent but democracy will win out in the long run.

Sustainability is an issue. In “Built to Last” Jim Collins points out that companies must build “clockbuilders not timetellers.”

Steve Jobs is a timeteller–what happens when he’s gone (again?)

Your condition is “defined problem”. I don’t think there really is such thing, especially when the problem provider may mean differently from what you comprehend.

A problem can be “Make this concept work” or “design the future PC”. Both are defined somewhat, but one will approach them very differently.

“Make this concept work”
Ok, the question is, after making it work, how far has it gone away from the original concept?

“Design the future PC”
Future defines a time, but it undefines how far you can go.

So I don’t think there’s a better way. You just got to be sharp enough to identify a suitable methology.

Of course there’s such a thing as a well-defined problem–Certainly “design the future PC” is not one of them. You must add detail of context in order to narrow in on the ideal solution. The methodology is design research and planning.

There is actually an intermediate approach (that I practice sometimes) -

Start out with some quick ideation to get some mud on the wall, best on limited understanding, best practices and creativity.

THEN go out and do the research with your preliminary idea as a straw-man - it serves as a method to gauge reactions, identify requirements gaps and test usability. In other words you will still do the full research of the second approach, but will not be starting from scratch.

I think this works better for designers because they can save time on basic concepts, and for users/customers because they have something to react to.

I do believe that there is “one perfect solution” to every well defined problem. But we don’t need to scratch our heads about it…
First of all, how to define the problem if you don’t know the whole environment of the problem (what are all the influencing factors). Even if we manage to list them all (which we won’t) than the amount of data would be to big to handle. Another factor is time. Even if you might be able to correctly state the problerm at timepoint x, a certain time later the environment will have changed, and the problem statement isn’t valid anymore.

So in my opinion, we will never know what will be “the perfect solution”, and probably will never attain it. Even if we would attain it, we would not know we would have, and still be insecure whether we have reached our goal.

So, all we designers can do is hope to “define the problem as well as possible, without going to extremes and waste time and money” and look for the best solution without going to extremes and waste time and money". This is where our experience and skills come into play. Managing the process of ideation by using techniques to narrow down the inputs to be able to generate valuable outputs that meet time and financial budgets.

We should be happy that “the perfect solution” can’t be attained. There would be much less work around for all of us!

Concerning the methodologies:

In the beginning of the design process, I tend to narrow down possibilities intuitively in my head, but later on, when the object starts to take “shape”, the sketches get more important. They allow my head to have some sort of geometrical reference (it would take to much concentration to keep all the elements I’m thinking about in focus in my head all the timen at the end of the day i would be exhausted!) and it also helps for styling since I can start using realtionships with curves and shapes to build a balanced design.

But even then, I don’t think I do a lot of “ready -fire-aim” even when I’m sketching. Most of what goes on the paper has already been formed in my head before. As I explained, I mainly draw to have a reference to think upon.

Ready-fire-aim to me is only usefull, when I’m “lost” and I need some random point of departure.

Exactely what I mean, Deez, the problem is not really in finding the perfect solution, it’s about defining the problem…

If theorethically we would manage to define the problem completely, and have immediate access to all knowledge to solve it within an infinitesimal small timelapse (small enough for the environment not to change and the problem definition not to be affected), then that perfect solution would exist though…

(so in this respect I disagree with you.)

But all of this is so highly philosophical and speculative that it’s to no practical use for us: In reality it would take a lifetime (eternity?) to go through all the data, by which time the solution has no value anymore.

A human being isn’t capable finding the perfect solution. But we can get closer using methods. That’s clear, so let’s make a topic-switch to methodology; getting as close as possible to the perfect method. I currently use this one (note: concept has a different meaning in this context);


  • function
  • history, patents & current products
  • usability tests
  • inspiration e.g. dictionary or combinations with functions of products used together
  • segmentation + mood board
    Indication for each obtained specification how and when it will be verified.


  • morphologic map for primary development items (provide input for secondary development items)
  • verification of specifications

Product concept:

  • morphologic map for secondary development items
  • materialization
  • verification of specifications

    “De praktijk van de productontwikkeling” by Paul Verhaert (ISBN: 90 334 4262 0) could be called my methodology bible, which book is yours? Any thoughts about “Product Design: Practical Methods for the Systematic Development of New Products” by M.R. Baxter?