I recently read a great article about problem solving. Where does the need for it come from and how do you overcoming it. The article broke it down to design. I have to agree. Design is about problem solving. Check out the article. It’s not about making a better mouse trap but finding a better way to deal with the mouse!
As the designer your job is to break the problem down so it can be solved. Every problem no matter how complex it is can be broken down and simplified. That doesn’t mean the solution is simple.
The article I read also talked about inspiration and seeing how others tackled a problem that on the surface appears to be the same as your problem. I have also heard people around me when discussing how we are going to tackle a problem state, “let’s not reinvent the wheel.” Even when we do it like it has been done before we always tweak the design making it that much better each time. Each problem is a problem in among itself.
Now I do think there is something to be said about looking at other designs and their solutions. The key is making sure that in the end the solution is your solution for your problem. Not your solution for their problem.
It all comes down to communication. Working with the client to determine what the real problem is. Identifying the problem allows you to determine what is needed to address your problem.