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How Might We Statements: A Powerful Way to Turn Insights into Opportunities

How Might We statements translate your insights into actionable design solutions. Here's how to use them.  

Words by Nikki Anderson, Visuals by Danbee Kim

You just finished your research project. All the interviews are done, and you polished off the report to share with stakeholders (of course, it has awesome infographics and videos). The finish line is so close, and you are excited to see what the teams have to say about the insights you found from the project.

You present the findings, smiling as the last slide comes up with some next steps and recommendations. The team smiles back at you, but there are crickets. You tentatively ask the audience, "Any questions?" A few people stare back at you; some look at their computers, and a few answer emails. Then you hear it, the question that researchers simultaneously love and hate:

"What do we do next?"

You prepared for this question by listing out some recommendations the team can work on. You navigate back to that slide and list out some of your thoughts.

"But how do we do that?"

I know I have been in this scenario before, and it can feel overwhelming—like you have failed in the research project. As researchers, we are so close to users that the next steps might feel obvious to us. We are good at reframing solutions to problems, thinking about iterations and sketching, and considering all possible experiences to delight our users.

However, these thoughts and concepts don't always translate from our heads to a report. That is why it is important to be prepared to run an ideation workshop to help teams engage with the insights and findings.

But before jumping right into ideation, or if you are not able to run an entire ideation session, there is one key step you should take: create "How Might We" statements!

What are "How Might We" statements?

"How Might We" (HMW) statements are small but mighty questions that allow us to reframe our insights into opportunity areas and innovate on problems found during user research.

They are a rewording of the core need, which you have uncovered through user research and help teams focus on user needs and problems, rather than just jumping straight to solutions. These statements help inspire user-centered design!

Why are they called "How Might We's?"

  • "How" suggests that we do not yet have the answer. It allows us to consider multiple avenues for innovation and reinforces that we are still exploring the problem and solution space.
  • "Might" emphasizes that there are many different paths we can go down when thinking about solutions. This allows for open-minded creativity and brainstorming and thinking about the problem from multiple perspectives. This "might" is where innovation becomes part of the process!
  • "We" immediately brings in the idea of teamwork. "We" should all work collaboratively to come up with a joint understanding of the problem and put our heads together to come up with a joint solution.

How we might write "How Might We" statements

People have been using HMW statements for years to spark innovation, but they can be done incorrectly, just like many other models. How can something so open-ended go wrong?

First, HMW statements can be too broad and vague:

  • How might we redesign our website to make it better?
  • How might we make our app more usable?
  • How might we innovate on weather apps?

The problem with vague and broad HMWs is that they give minimal direction or inspiration. These statements are meant to spark ideas you can later test with users. Without any focus, where should you start? A good HMW statement helps you focus on solving a problem.

HMW statements can also be too narrow:

  • How might we make our app's add to cart experience more functional?
  • How might we make the perfect weather app by telling people the weather before they wake up?
  • How might we make children less hyper during school by extending recess for 20 minutes?

When HMW statements are too narrow, we lose all the incredible, innovative ideas that can come from them. With too much focus, we are stuck on one particular solution already. We want several different ideas to test at the end, so focusing too much on one solution will limit creativity and innovation.

So how to do it right? Here are the steps I always take when generative HMW statements:

Step 1: Start with a point-of-view/problem statement

A point-of-view (POV)/problem statement allows you to focus on your users and their needs. From your research, you should identify the essential needs or pain points of your users. You can create this by combining three elements: user, need, and insight into a fill-in-the-blank.

A model to use for this is: user (fill in user) needs to (fill in need) because (fill in insight)

For example, a person expecting their first child (user) needs to set up an investment savings account (need) because they want to plan for their child's future education but are overwhelmed by choice and how to set up a proper savings account (insight)

Step 2: Break down the POV/problem statement

Once you have a POV/problem statement, you can begin to brainstorm How Might We statements. Break the larger problem into smaller, actionable pieces.

If our research showed people expecting their first child need to set up an investment savings account but are overwhelmed by choice, we could break this down into a few areas:

  • Helping with choice
  • Helping with the process
  • Helping with what investment savings account means
  • Helping with educating on investment savings accounts

Step 3: Write as many How Might We's as you can

After breaking down the problem statement/POV into smaller chunks, you start writing How Might We statements for each of these ideas.

There is a fantastic model you can use to generate HMW statements, and that is: How might we (intended experience) for (user) so that (desired effect).

Essentially, you put "How might we" in front of these smaller ideas.

  • How might we make choosing an investment savings plan easier for expecting adults so that they feel confident in their choice?
  • How might we make the process of choosing an investment saving account clear, so future parents are not overwhelmed?
  • How might we educate expecting parents about an investment savings account so they are not so confused?

Step 4: Decide on which to move forward

Once you brainstorm as many HMW statements as possible, you can decide what to move forward next.

If you are in a group, you can vote on the one to use, or if you are working alone, you can either poll some colleagues or choose the one you think would be best to explore next.

Some examples

HMW statements may be difficult to come up with sometimes, and you might find it challenging for yourself and others. My best advice is to break the bigger problem down and then start writing HMW in front of every aspect of the problem—it is okay to write some that are too narrow or too broad since you can assess them after. Just write!

If you are still feeling stuck, Stanford's d.school suggests ways to make the most HMW by changing the questions' goal. Here are their suggestions, plus examples for you to follow.

POV/problem statement: People who like to listen to podcasts need to be able to easily bookmark or save interesting parts of podcasts while commuting because having to find these points afterward is time-consuming and difficult

  • Amp up the good: HMW make an entire podcast interesting for users?
  • Remove the bad: HMW present interesting parts of podcasts to users?
  • Explore the opposite: HMW make finding interesting parts of podcasts the most exciting part of listening to podcasts?
  • Question an assumption: HMW make podcasts more tactile or voice-assisted?
  • Go after adjectives: HMW make bookmarking or saving easy instead of difficult?
  • ID unexpected resources: HMW use other apps to make searching within podcasts easier?
  • Create an analogy from need or context: HMW make bookmarking or saving interesting parts of podcasts like a game?
  • Play against the challenge: HMW make searching for interesting parts of a podcast something people want to do?
  • Change the status quo: HMW make the search experience inside a podcast more delightful?
  • Break POV into pieces: HMW make searching entertaining? HMW make it possible for people to bookmark on-the-go? HMW reduce time spent searching for interesting parts of a podcast episode?

Not all of these are perfect and even doable, but using these prompts will help if you are stuck in the brainstorming stage of writing statements! Keep it creative and exciting, then cut back on what doesn't make sense after. As in improv, always remember "Yes, and..."

What to do next?

After you (and your team) generate HMW statements and pick 1-2 to move forward with, it is time for the next step. Design and test!

Either with a designer or in a larger group, think of all the solutions that address each How Might We statement you chose and sketch them out. If there are too many final ideas to test, do another round of voting in your team.

Once the best two ideas are chosen, work with the designer to create prototypes, which should then be usability tested with users! Learn from the usability tests, and keep iterating!

Nikki Anderson is the founder of User Research Academy and a qualitative researcher with 8 years in the field. She loves solving human problems and petting all the dogs. Explore her research courses here or read more of her work on Medium.

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