Good design practice: agree on the problem before tackling the solution

In 1955 David Ogilvy wrote a fascinating letter about his habits as a copywriter. One of his points jumped out at me:

I write out a definition of the problem and a statement of the purpose which I wish the campaign to achieve. Then I go no further until the statement and its principles have been accepted by the client.

This is applicable to design projects as well. If clients (internal or external) ask us for some quick wireframes, it is our responsibility as user experience designers to push back and make sure everyone agrees on the problem and the goals of the project first – before the design cycle starts. It sounds so obvious, but I see people falling into this trap all the time.

The product discovery process can take months, weeks, or even a few hours if there are tight deadlines. But it cannot take zero hours – that’s a recipe for disaster.