In design, one of the most important steps is identifying your problems. This may sound pessimistic but this actually helps you become more aware of solutions. You should work to create problem statements, which can help you and your team become more focused on your user needs and kick-start your ideas.

A good way to begin brainstorming problem statements is to look inward. If you were the user, how would you feel? What would bother you? These statements should be user-centric, because after all, you should be considering how you can better improve their experience. It should be broad enough to leave room for a number of solutions but of manageable size, as to not overwhelm yourself.

In this exercise, we are going to use the structure ________ is a challenge for ________ because _________.

In the past few weeks, I analyzed an episode of Undercover Boss where I created empathy maps (another great design tool) for the CEO of TGI Fridays, Ray Blanchette and one of his employee’s featured in the episode. Today, I am going to go a step further and create some problem statements that I developed from my analysis.  

Working and training in a poorly maintained restaurant is a challenge for restaurant staff because they are not being heard by corporate and feel like they cannot give customers the best experience possible.

As someone who has been working really hard to train new staff and bartend, Brittany feels as though her work is going unnoticed. She mentions the lack of management present in the restaurant and has physical reminders (damaged ceilings) every day of the little support they receive from corporate. She feels as though this affects her work ethic and the customer’s experience. Also, assistant manager Michelle feels as though she is being short-staffed and helpless. She spends most of her shift stepping up and helping out in different roles, rather than managing the entire staff. She wishes that she could have more servers and bussers so that she could focus more on organizational tasks.

Re-energizing his brand is a challenge for Ray because he feels as though there is a disconnect between corporate and chain locations.

As a CEO, it’s hard to know how your changes are being implemented on a local scale. As seen in this episode, Ray is not aware of the struggles that his workers face at different chain locations. There is some disconnect between the locations and corporate, because while Ray is creating tools to re-energize his beloved brand, there are some things that are being overlooked.

Managing many locations is a challenge for corporate employees because there is no way of identifying certain issues unless there are staff members is consistently at every location.

At a company with hundreds of locations, it is easy for things to slip through the cracks. Corporate’s role is to help flag issues occurring in restaurants. But, it may be hard to manage so many locations, especially if there is a staffing shortage. In order to try and manage all locations as best as possible, they should look out for issues being brought up by location employees.

Financial stability is a challenge for restaurant industry workers because of the long, exhausting days and inconsistent pay.

In this episode of Undercover Boss, we see a lot of people being overworked and underpaid. For example, we can see this with line cook Abdul, Assistant Manager Michelle and the server Susanna. These people work so hard and spend all day on their feet to make little money. With Susanna, she only worked afternoon shifts due to her family schedule and this is when the restaurant is most empty. It’s hard for her to make tips and support her family.

Dining in is a challenge for customers  because of other options such as takeout or delivery via apps.

TGI Fridays has seen a decrease in customers dining in their restaurant. This could be due to a number of reasons. Newer apps such as GrubHub, Uber Eats and DoorDash has made it easy get food delivered right to your door. Also a trend of taking out vs. dining in has risen in the past few years. This could be due to restaurant atmosphere as well. In TGI Friday locations in Maryland, there are many physical problems with the building which could turn customers off. In New York, where sales are down 15%, they are not utilizing their trendy outdoor dining space and deal with short-staffing issues, which could result in a lower quality customer experience.

These problem statements can now be used as a starting point to help get you started on exploring possible solutions!

Lee, Geunbae “GB”. “Designer’s Indispensable Skill: the Ability to Write and Present a Solid Problem Statement.” Medium, UX Planet, 27 June 2017, uxplanet.org/designers-indispensable-skill-the-ability-to-write-and-present-a-solid-problem-statement-56a8b4b8060.

Dam, Rikke Friis, and Teo Yu Siang. “Stage 2 in the Design Thinking Process: Define the Problem and Interpret the Results.” The Interaction Design Foundation, http://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/stage-2-in-the-design-thinking-process-define-the-problem-and-interpret-the-results.

Benjamin, Aaron. “Design: How to Define the Problem.” Medium, Prototypr, 20 Apr. 2016, blog.prototypr.io/design-how-to-define-the-problem-5361cccb2fcb.

April, Evelina Tapia on 11th. “UX for Beginners: Defining the Design Problem.” Studio by UXPin, 22 Apr. 2020, http://www.uxpin.com/studio/blog/ux-for-beginners-defining-the-design-problem/.

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