In this post, you’ll learn how to expand the field of possible solutions by writing inspiring How Might We statements.
Let’s get started…
What Is a How Might We Statement?
How Might We statements (HMWs for short) are used to inspire us during ideation and when we’re brainstorming solutions to a complex problem. Basically, they’re design challenges framed as questions that we answer by generating ideas.
Write How Might We statements after you’ve defined the problem and before you begin ideating. We do this because they help expand our thinking and open up new possibilities and directions for generating ideas.
For example: If we started to generate ideas based on the problem statement alone, our focus would be narrow and our creative juices won’t be flowing because we’re starting with a negative framing of the design challenge.
How Might We statements reframe our problem statement into a positive, aspirational question, which inspires us to think more creatively and uncover wild ideas. They help us to turn insights into action.
50 Examples of How Might We Statements
Dial up the goodness
Insight: We think of our best ideas while enjoying a break from a tedious task.
- HMW turn ideation into a fun outing with friends?
- HMW use flexible working to promote creativity within our team?
- HMW encourage people to make more time for things they enjoy?
- HMW make completing tedious tasks a positive and enjoyable experience?
- HMW give our staff more freedom and flexibility throughout their day?
- HMW encourage managers to incentivize taking breaks?
- HMW create conditions for creativity to thrive when it’s needed most?
- HMW make creative workshops as enjoyable as taking a break?
- HMW help our team plan their days around ‘thinking’ and ‘doing’ tasks?
- HMW make workshops places where customers take breaks with designers?
- HMW make tedious tasks the most enjoyable part of our day?
- HMW reframe tedious tasks to promote creativity and freedom of thought?
- HMW show the value of bad ideas in the process to finding good ideas?
- HMW spend more time replenishing creative juices than on tedious tasks?
- HMW turn the creative process into a paid vacation?
- HMW completely remove tedious tasks from our schedules?
Make it emotional
Problem: New parents can get overwhelmed by conflicting childcare advice when they search online, making them feel confused, alone, and unsupported.
- HMW make new mums feel the love of the community when their new baby arrives?
- HMW boost parents’ mental health during the first few months of parenthood?
- HMW help friends of new parents show their support when it’s needed most?
- HMW help parents get advice from people they know at meaningful moments?
- HMW provide a service that makes caring for new babies feel like a team effort?
- HMW help parents feel connected to other parents to create new bonds?
- HMW time healthcare visits on ups and downs?
- HMW say ‘I’m here for you’ when new parents need it most?
- HMW provide care and warmth for new parents in the post natal period?
- HMW create companionship and new connections between new parents in the area?
- HMW say “I’m with you” when new parents need it most?
- HMW help friends and families show their love and support?
- HMW help make new parents make friends with people in the same boat?
- HMW drop by for a cuppa and share advice at meaningful times?
Explore the opposite
Insight: People that understand the impact of their travel habits on the environment, choose more sustainable transport methods.
- HMW enable commuters to choose a carbon footprint rather than a travel mode?
- HMW tailor our features for people that care about sustainability?
- HMW remove the desire to choose less sustainable modes of transport?
- HMW design our product for the environment rather than our users?
- HMW make environmental impact a primary consideration when planning a journey?
- HMW show people how much damage a mode of transport does to the environment?
- HMW challenge how people understand their impact on the environment?
- HMW change the idea that convenience is the easiest route?
- HMW encourage people to discard their travel habits?
- HMW focus the app on how unsustainable some travel modes are?
Question an assumption
Problem: People that are required to work from an office find it difficult to make healthy choices at lunchtime leading to lower energy levels and work dissatisfaction.
- HMW make tasty junk food that energizes and nourishes people?
- HMW remove food from the equation so people can spend their lunchtimes resting?
- HMW structure working days to maintain good energy levels throughout?
- HMW provide healthy options that are more tasty than junk food?
- HMW make junk food healthy?
- HMW remove the need for people to make choices at lunch time?
- HMW use lunchtimes to increase energy levels without food?
- HMW encourage people to graze throughout the day?
- HMW increase work satisfaction by making lunch times more of an event?
- HMW encourage people to swap lunches?
- HMW make lunch a social event to look forward to?
- HMW help local caters to provide healthy choices that people want?
- HMW help people to prepare their own lunches each day?
- HMW make our restaurant a haven from the workplace?
What Makes a Good How Might We Statement?
A good HMW statement helps the design thinker to expand the field of possible solutions and gives you heaps of ideas for your prototype. They bridge the gap between complex problem and creative solution.
Here Are 5 Tips to Help You Write Better HMWs
- Base them on problems
A good How Might We statement addresses a real problem experienced by a real person. If you want your solutions to be useful and create value, they need to have been inspired by evidence or observation, so write a problem statement first.
- Base them on insights
Although it makes sense to brainstorm HMWs based on a problem statement, you can also brainstorm HMWs inspired by any interesting or notable insights you discovered during user research. This will give you lots of good starting points and can broaden your pool of possible solutions.
- Keep them outcome focused
Focus on the outcome you would like to create, or the ideal you’d like to achieve. For example, rather than HMW reduce errors, an outcome-focused statement would be HMW make it easy to complete the task. It’s a subtle difference but has a big impact on your creative thought process.
- Frame them so they inspire lots of ideas
To inspire lots of ideas, your HMW statement needs to be broad enough that you could come up with many ideas, and focused enough that you’re addressing a relevant insight or customer problem.
- Make them positive and inspirational
The language you use will go a long way in inspiring you and your team to come up with innovative ideas. Use positive words and an inspiring tone. Make the statements emotionally charged and meaningful. This energy will pass through you and into your ideas.
How to Use How Might We Questions?
How might we statements are used in human centered design as a way to kickstart innovative thinking.
Generating HMW statements is a great divergent thinking exercise to include during a Design Sprint or any other design thinking process.
We write our HMW questions once we’ve clearly defined our problem and we’re ready to start generating ideas.
We do this exercise with our team so we get the benefit of everyone’s unique perspectives and ways of thinking.
Once we have lots of inspiring How Might We statements to choose from, we discuss them and select our favorites. Then we begin ideating.
Here are 5 steps to using HMWs:
Start with a problem or insight – We want our How Might We statements to be inspired by our user research. This is important because if we want our ideas to resonate with our users, we need to link our research to our ideas. Start this exercise by writing a problem statement and gathering your most interesting insights. In UX design when we write a problem statement, it’s best practice to include who you’re designing for, what problem they have, and how it’s affecting them.
Brainstorm HMWs – Put your problem statement and insights so that everyone can see them. Give everyone a set amount of time, and start to brainstorm How Might We statements. Go for quantity over quality, we want volume. This encourages us to think beyond the obvious and explore new and interesting ways of framing your design thinking challenge.
Group and discuss them – Once everyone has finished, ask everyone to put their How Might We statements where everyone can see them. Either lay them out on the table or put them up on a wall or digital whiteboard. Ask everyone to read through the statements and group them into broad themes. Don’t over think it, just look for common topics, categories and relationships. This is just to encourage us to read through them all properly and get our heads into the right creative space. Spend some time discussing the themes as a group: What’s interesting? What’s surprising? What’s new?
Pick the best HMWs – Ask everyone to vote on the How Might We statements that are most inspiring and interesting. Give everyone a limited number of votes and a few minutes to think about their choices. If you’re in person, they can cast their votes by drawing a dot or making a mark on the HMW they like best. Or, if you’re using an online whiteboard tool, add a sticker or shape to the chosen HMWs. Once the votes are in, take the HMWs with the most votes or pick one to use for ideation.
Start ideation or brainstorming – Choose one of the many ideation methods to start generating ideas for solutions based on your How Might We statements. This is when you’re officially into the ideation phase. To learn more about how to generate innovative ideas, check out our complete guide.
How Might We statements are used in human centered design as a way to kickstart innovative thinking. They’re based on problems and insights gathered from user research, and they’re outcome focused.
To use them, brainstorm HMWs with your team, group them into themes, pick the best ones, and start ideation.
As a user experience designer, the design thinking method is an invaluable tool to have in your arsenal. Practice writing how might we statements to boost your creative confidence and push your innovation process to the next level.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where do HMW statements come from?
The HMW question was first used in the design thinking methodology during the 1970s by Proctor & Gamble and then popularized more recently by David Kelley and the Ideo design team.
Can you share a design thinking case study?
- An innovative solution to teach financial literacy
- A success story about home toilets for Ghana’s poorest urban dwellers
- Developing a scalable water and sanitation business
- How do you encourage new customers to open a bank account?