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Design Method to Create Productive & Innovate Solutions

Theory of Wicked Problems & RAIN Approach to Solving It

Designers are professional problem solvers. Hence, they’re constantly working to create innovative and productive design solutions. The following article adopts an inter-disciplinary approach to introduce the design method “RAIN”, which designers may use to push the boundaries of what is possible in design.

Four-Step Design Method


It is modelled on the method to practice mindfulness (RECOGNIZE, ALLOW, INVESTIGATE & NURTURE) developed by American psychologist and spiritual leader Tara Brach, but with two changes. The design method requires designers to ACCEPT as many problems that relate to each other as possible. It requires them to INNOVATE by integrating solutions to explore new design potentialities. It is a way to bring mindfulness – of limitations, challenges and possibilities – in the design process.

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Designers face one basic problem in the design process. Mathematician and design theorist Horst Rittel articulated the problem well in the sixties by putting forward the theory of wicked problems. Rittel argued that the design process consists of two stages. In stage one, designers define the problem/s. In stage two, they find solutions to it/them.

The wicked problem, in the process, is defining with certainty the problems that you want to address with your design. There is an infinite number of problems in the world, but no definite way to identify all the ones that are crucial for your design solution.

Wickedness of Problems

For instance, while designing a cup the designer may design an object that can quite simply hold liquids. The designer, in this case, defines the problem minimally – as the lack of an object to store liquids. Hence, the design solution is also minimal with only one purpose – to store liquids.

But, what if another designer designs a cup that is heat-resistant and made of environmentally friendly material? This cup would be able to store hot liquids without getting hot and it would be more suited to the environment. This designer has defined more problems and created a solution that has more purposes.

Yet, the wickedness of the endless number of problems leaves even this designer vulnerable to the possibility of a better solution. Another designer could very well create a solution that addresses more of the cup’s potential problems.

There will always be one more problem to solve for designers. That’s also why there will always be room for innovation. 


Salvation for designers lies in acceptance. If designers can make peace with the wickedness of endless problems and accept the most pressing problems that they definitely need to address, then they can adopt an approach that integrates solutions for more purposeful action.

The designer is never alone in the design process. They can work with marketing professionals to generate user insights and understand their demands better. They can work with the product development or technical team to effectively use resources in the design process. And, they can adopt an integrative approach to problem-solving which defines more problems right from the get-go to be more purposeful in their actions.


Once designers define the minimum of all problems that their product will solve, they can explore the realm of possibilities and try to take on more of the impossible.

For designers, what is impossible lies on the wrong side of their imagination. All it takes to convert an impossible solution to a possible one is clear definition of the problem and imagination to design the best possible solution.


Lastly, designers must be collectors of problem-solving experiences.

They must face wicked problems with a growth mentality that builds on past experiences. They must improve with each experience to constantly build better solutions. And, they must work with the hope of ending all wicked problems. Even if this is a long-drawn-out process.

The task is challenging and difficult. Nonetheless, it’s one that makes designing a worthwhile, enriching and entirely enjoyable endeavor.

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