Dilemma-Driven Design

Dilemma-Driven Design Approach

Designing with dilemmas involves three main activities. These are (1) discovery: identifying user dilemmas relevant for a given design brief, (2) definition: analyzing all dilemmas and selecting a target dilemma, and (3) application: creating ideas that can address the selected dilemma.

In this illustration on the right, the character in the blue jacket is the designer (presumably you) who is the main decision-maker in the design process. The dilemmas are the orange-white circles, and the design aids supporting each activity are the square figures outlined with orange contour lines. Let’s have a look at what’s happening…

1 – Discovery

Users’ dilemmas can be identified using various techniques, such as experience sampling and in-depth interviewing, as well as by methods that do not involve direct involvement of users, such as interviews with domain experts. Based on approaches in design research and social sciences, I have developed tools and techniques that can be appropriated to any design brief to capture dilemmas of end-users.


2 – Definition

As there may be many dilemmas relevant for any given design brief, it is important to select one that is worth designing with. For this, I have developed set of qualities that explicates the main questions designers can ask themselves when selecting a target dilemma. Through answering these questions, the design team can reflect on and discuss which dilemmas to eliminate and which dilemmas to choose as input for ideation.


3 – Application

This selected dilemma can, in the final stage, be taken as a starting point for generating ideas. Designers can address dilemmas in several different ways. To support generating ideas when addressing dilemmas, I have developed a number of design strategies, which can ensure plurality and variety in the design ideas. 


For more information on the approach, please refer to my PhD Thesis titled Me against myself: Addressing personal dilemmas through design; or the complementary booklet Book of Dilemmas for Designers under the tools section. Or contact me for collaboration opportunities.


First case: Dilemmas during Teatime.