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Important problems

Thoughts on framing problems

If you do not work on important problems, how can you expect to do important work?
—Richard Hamming

You might look at the term “important problems” and think of pressing societal issues like food scarcity or housing instability. And you might think to yourself, “My work has nothing to do with important problems like that.”

And you might be right.

But importance is relative, and how you perceive the work in front of you can change depending on how you frame the problem you’re solving. For junior designers, sometimes you are assigned well-framed problems—problems whose importance is well defined and clearly conveyed. Other times, not so much. That’s when you need to build a better frame.

The work involved with framing problems is important work in and of itself. Asking follow-up questions, referencing past decisions, connecting to higher-level goals—it reveals importance for everyone.

Only when you get comfortable framing problems can you start doing important work. And only when you understand the importance of your work can you debate whether it is truly important.