Abstract the problem

The details of a problem can sometimes get in the way of our ability to solve it. We can't see the forest for the trees. You might be able to come up with more ideas if you make the problem abstract: Remove specific details and focus on the generic.

Once you have a more abstract problem, you can consider a wider range of solutions to it, and one of those solutions might be the one you need. For each of the solutions, you can try to "add the details back in" so it addresses the original problem more specifically.


Monique is designing a desktop app that will help people store "snippets" of information they come across throughout the day, so they can use them later. She wants to start with some different options for how the main window of the app could look.

She makes the problem more abstract: "How do people store stuff?", and that makes her think about the storage around her home. She's got a cupboard under the stairs where things are put in wherever they will fit. But she's also got a wardrobe storage "wall" in her bedroom full of different doors and drawers and shelves. Each thing has its place, and it goes where it belongs.

Inspired by this, she tries two different ideas to start. One lets the user drag the snippet into the app window and it is spatially placed wherever it will fit depending on the shape of the text or the size of the image. The other gives the user several boxes, each meant for a different type of snippet, so that the user can keep them all organised by what they are.

Monique takes these prototypes and shows them to her friends and family to get some impressions, and do a bit of usability testing.

Analogy → ← Quantity over quality Back to the table of contents