In our course on discoveries at our UX Conference, we talk about the importance of solving the right problem. Discovery research commonly results in learning about the problem space. This knowledge should be used to generate solutions that solve real user problems.

At the end of a discovery, the team should come together, agree on the top things it found out, and use this knowledge to frame design challenges. To prevent individuals from suggesting their pet solutions, which might have little resemblance to the problems found, construct How might we questions that frame the problem(s) for ideation.

A How might we (HMW) question can generate lots of creative ideas. Here are some examples of How might we questions:

  • How might we ensure more people pay their taxes before the deadline?
  • How might we help employees stay productive and healthy when working from home?
  • How might we make customers feel that their information is safe and secure when creating an account?

The How might we template was first introduced by Procter & Gamble in the 1970s and adopted by IDEO. The technique has become popular in design thinking and is used by design teams worldwide.

5 Tips on Writing Good HMWs

While writing HMW questions seems straightforward, there’s slightly more than meets the eye. The better you write them, the better the ideas that they prompt.

#1 Start with the Problems (or Insights) You’ve Uncovered

Some teams generate HMWs that are not specific to what they’ve learned. For example, How might we improve the user experience of the product? is not specific to what you might have uncovered in your discovery research. This question can result in ideas that don’t address the root problems and the insights you uncovered.

Once you and your team have carried out your discovery research, agree on what the top findings were. Use these to craft HMW questions, as in the example below.

Problem Users aren't aware of the full product offerings.
HMW How might we increase awareness of the full product offerings?

#2 Avoid Suggesting a Solution in Your HMW Question

It can be easy to limit your thinking and embed solutions in your HMW questions. But doing so restricts the pool of possibilities, and fewer ideas are generated. In the example below, the first HMW suggests a particular type of solution, whereas the second is agnostic about any particular solution.

Insight Users are often unsure about which form to complete when they file their taxes.
HMW (poor) How might we tell users which form to complete to file their taxes?
HMW (good) How might we make users feel confident they are filing their taxes correctly?

The problem with the first HMW question is that only solutions related to communication will be generated. With the second HMW, further possibilities could be generated such as filing taxes automatically for users or removing multiple forms and only having one form that presents users with tailored questions based on the user’s responses.

#3 Keep Your HMWs Broad

When writing HMW questions, ask yourself if you could rewrite them in a broader way? The broader the HMW, the more ideas can be generated.

Insight Users often spend a long time checking their submission for mistakes.
HMW (good) How might we make it quick and easy for users to check their work for mistakes?
HMW (better) How might we support users to efficiently draft submissions that they’re happy with?

Although we want HMWs to be broad, make sure not to go too broad that you lose sight of the problem you’re trying to solve. For example, How might we redesign the submission-drafting process? would be too broad.

#4 Focus Your HMWs on the Desired Outcome

To avoid solving symptoms of the problems rather than the root problems themselves, ask yourself whether your HMW question focuses on the desired outcome. In the example below, the first HMW question loses sight of what we really want to achieve.

Problem Users often call us because they’re unsure about the application process.
HMW (poor) How might we stop users from calling us?
HMW (good) How might we make users feel confident they have all the information they need?

While it’s true that we want to cut costs for unnecessary contact, the high cost is a symptom of the root problem (users are unsure about the application process, and therefore call us). We really want to solve the problem of why users are calling us, which the second HMW question addresses. The desired outcome of our design efforts should be increased user confidence in the application process.

Another problem with the first HMW question is that it can result in a solution like making the contact number on the website harder to find, rather than creative solutions that increase user confidence.

#5 Phrase Your HMW Questions Positively

In a similar vein to point 4, stating your HMW questions positively can generate more ideas and also encourage creativity.

If you find yourself using negative verbs like ‘reduce,’ ‘remove,’ ‘prevent,’ ask yourself if you can frame things more positively by using positive action verbs, like ‘increase,’ ‘create,’ ‘enhance,’ ‘promote’ and so on.

Problem Users find the return process difficult.
HMW (poor) How might we make the return process less difficult?
HMW (good) How might we make the return process quick and intuitive?

Write and Choose HMWs with Your Team

Spend time with your team writing and selecting your HMWs before you begin ideating. You can have everyone contribute an HMW; then go through the following checklist to select or improve the best version:

  • Is it based on an existing problem or insight?
  • Does it track a desired outcome?
  • Is it written positively?
  • Is it broad enough to ensure many creative ideas?
  • Does it suggest a solution?

There’s no limit on how many HMW questions you should produce. The more you have, the more ideas you’ll garner. If you find yourself with too many, ask yourself whether there is any overlap between them and see if you can combine some into one broader HMW. The other alternative is to prioritize your HMWs in terms of their impact on the project’s success.


Using this simple technique at the end of your discovery process can set your team up for success in framing the design challenge on the right problems.

Learn more about How might we questions and other methods used in discovery, in our one day course at our UX conference: Discoveries: Building the Right Thing.