Solve problems better: bottom-up and top-down

Use the creative tension between intention and uncertainty to build unthinkable solutions.

When you solve a problem, you have two main approaches to follow: top-down and bottom-up. Combining them empowers designers to generate novel and useful solutions that are often not achievable with linear thinking.

Top-down is the direct, forward-looking approach

The top-down approach to problem-solving is the most immediate way to initiate. Designers establish goals, identify constraints, execute research, test prototypes, and implement possible solutions to test in the application field.

Sometimes there is not enough time and resources to explore the problem. Suppose we don’t define the problem we’re trying to solve in the best way possible by identifying its domain, boundaries, and relationships. In that case, we have fewer opportunities to find successful and innovative solutions.

Bottom-up is the boundaryless exploration

When we dedicate focused, structured activities to explore different aspects of the problem and generate ideas for possible solutions, we’re building opportunities for innovation from the bottom-up.

Designers need to go beyond thinking in the familiar, direct, and rational way in the discovery and ideation phase. There are many structured methods to facilitate creativity and imagination. And facilitated collaborative thinking allows us to beyond the obvious and superficial solutions by pushing us to visualize possible better scenarios.

The bottom-up approach facilitates discovering alternative and innovative solutions not readily available when constrained in the traditional, linear thinking method.

Combine bottom-up with top-down problem-solving to find better solutions

Use the creative tension between intention and uncertainty to build unthinkable solutions.

Everyday problem-solvers as designers can reap the benefits of a combined top-down and bottom-up approach to find novel and useful solutions.

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