I think she was surprised.

With an apology, my client was handing me a new job.

“I know it’s boring… umm, I’m sorry about that, it’s something we need to get done…” she offered, along with a small stack of paper.

“Nonono,” I replied, “I think this could be an interesting problem.”

It was filled with tables and bursting at the seems with text. There was nothing pretty about it. She was right to say it was a boring job. It was.

But one of our roles as designers is to turn the boring and necessary into something interesting.

I think most people, clients included, assume that our job is all about aesthetic – about making something that’s already interesting something worth looking at. They don’t realise that the real work for us is in finding the nugget of interest amongst the bucket of stones they give us.

We end up arm deep in the bucket, digging until our fingers are bloody, because we know that interesting problems, interesting questions, lead to interesting answers, and it’s worth the effort.

With practice we get good at it. We start to see how problems can be turned interesting everywhere we look.

We start by (1) looking at the aesthetic of the answers to design problems, then we (2) try to see the design problem underneath, then (3) ask ourselves if the designer could have reframed the problem to make it more interesting.

Doing so is simply a professional curiosity. We do it to stretch our skills, and we do it to learn. With all this practice, we can’t help but get faster at finding interesting problems.

It feels good to solve an interesting problem, because they almost always have three great things going for them:

  • They’re intellectually challenging
  • The answer will help someone
  • We can make something beautiful.

No wonder we get addictive to interesting problems! Look at those three? Oh man, what a mix!

So we collect them. We put our hands up for more work, we volunteer to help with more projects, we start so many of our own projects because interesting problems are fun.

We collect them in our minds, and in our books, and notes, and actions and words and dreams. We lust for them.

That’s our mistake.

I’ve Got Too Many Problems!

Once we find a problem interesting, we tend to care about it. We care about it being executed well because we see what it can do for people, we see how it can help them, and maybe ourselves.

But what happens when we start to split our focus? Each thing we’re applying it to suffers, right?

And if we care about these problems, wouldn’t we want them to be solved properly? To provide answers that are so strong they don’t end up becoming someone else’s interesting problem?

It’s not fun giving up on something you care about, like a problem you want to solve better than anyone else.

But if we look at our three traits, we owe it to the audience who we can help to step aside.

Less fun than giving up on trying to solve an interesting problem, is doing a poor job it.

We need to be ok with giving up these problems, and we need to be especially ok knowing someone else will probably solve it.

They’ll probably do a far better job of it than we would have, anyhow.

Because they’ll have their their one interesting problem, and of course, you’ll have your one interesting problem, too.

While we might learn to find interesting problems wherever we look, I think the real skill is letting go of them, too.

In doing so, we give ourselves the best shot at making sure that these interesting problems of ours end up with interesting answers.