Consider the Frame

A product may be redesigned for various reasons: competitive pressure, integrating an exciting new feature, a change in leadership, etc. Some of these reasons (such as the new feature) are integral to the product’s content. Others (such as the change in leadership) are part of the frame around the product. As a force in influencing the project’s direction, the frame can be as powerful as the challenge’s substance.

A metaphor for the frame’s power: Late last fall, I decided to lose weight. Coincidentally, my family needed to replace some broken bowls. I realized that IKEA sold bowls similar to the ones we use at home, but smaller. I bought some of the small bowls and started using them — along with a smaller spoon — for my breakfast. These subtle tweaks helped me trick my brain into eating smaller portions. With patience, exercise, and mindful eating, I eventually lost the weight.

Was it all thanks to the smaller bowl? No. But the bowl made it easier. My eyes measure the amount of food relative to the size of the bowl. Using a smaller bowl led me to see my “normal” portions differently. Food — the substance of the meal — is framed by the bowl. Smaller bowl = more food, even if the portions are actually smaller. The frame around a problem changes how we see the problem. When undertaking a design challenge, consider its frame along with its content.