5 Tips for Solving Difficult Design Challenges

Design challenges can often be unclear, complex and dynamic. Challenges like these from clients can be both demanding and an opportunity for growth and innovation. When you’re facing a difficult design challenge and you’re seemingly stymied, here are some tips to keep in mind.

Define and Analyze

The first thing you should do when you realize you may have an issue with a design challenge is to identify the issue in no uncertain terms. Put on your analytical hat, and attempt to see the issue from every side. You may think you have a good grasp of the challenge and simply don’t know what to do about it, but take a moment and challenge this assumption.

If you don’t understand the nuances of the challenge, a solution becomes much more difficult to achieve. Begin by clarifying the challenge. What exactly are you trying to achieve? With a clearer view of what you’re up against, you can begin to decide what to do about it. With this knowledge, you will be more effective when you weigh your alternative options and devise a plan of attack moving forward.

Look Beyond Similarities

The urge to look back on a similar project or past problem is always present, and it may be a good place to turn when you’re initially stumped. However, once problems become too complex and unlike anything you’ve already encountered, you should resist the urge to compile earlier solutions. Instead, looking at the problem with a clean slate and a new perspective will get you closer to a solution than limiting yourself to what’s already been done.

Viewing this sort of challenge as an opportunity opens the door for innovation, but you’ll never create something new if you’re focusing on something old. Remember that, when you’re looking at similar products, other websites or old projects, you’re seeing the result of a process that you may or may not have been a party to. Anyway, do you really want to come up with something that is exactly the same as something that already exists?

Find Inspiration

The ability to find inspiration from many sources could be your key to solving some of the most challenging design problems. Being able to find inspiration in any situation means being able to face any challenge.

A good way to find inspiration when you’re backed up against the wall is to do some simple people watching. Watching people interact with the things around them and solve small problems as they go about their daily lives can give you a fresh perspective and get your mind headed in the right direction.

On a larger scale, you could research various ways people have solved great problems. A quick Google search can give you a large amount of stories of people overcoming the odds and solving seemingly insurmountable issues.


Once you’ve gotten a clear view of your challenge, as well as the inspiration you’ve gained from looking at your challenge through a wider lens, you’ll attempt to consolidate all of it into a solution. Chances are, you’re probably doing so in an office on a computer screen. If you’re still running into problems, expand upon your methods for prototyping. Try using a pen and paper to design and see what complications and restrictions you face. You may find yet another aspect of the challenge you hadn’t already considered, and it may be the key to unlock an innovative solution.

You could also attack the challenge by abstracting, or solving problems within a model before attempting to solve them in a real system. Building and working with models that you wouldn’t normally work with could give you unique perspectives on your problem, and could spark a “light bulb” moment. Abstracting is also effective if you take the attitude that everything is negotiable, malleable and improvable.

Immerse Yourself

If you’re still not satisfied with the design you’ve come up with, try immersing yourself in whatever you’re designing. Doing so can allow you to see all of the design challenges from a different place. With this new view, you may see the perfect way to solve your problems. You could end up with a true innovation.

Much of tackling complex design tasks has to do with seeing the challenge from new perspectives. If you can figure out how to see things from different points of view, then find your perfect source of inspiration, there’s no limit the originality you can work into your design solutions.

About the author:

Jeff Caldwell is Brand Manager of Superior Shelter in Carrollton, GA. Accepting shelter design challenges from designers, landscape architects, and architects around the world, Superior Shelter creates custom shelters, like steel gazebos and pergolas, specific to your outdoor needs. Connect with SRP on LinkedIn or Facebook.

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