Workshop Exercises: Understand

Why-How Laddering

Challenge the level and focus of an initial design question

Illustration of Why-How Laddering
Run a Why-How Laddering play

Also called: Abstraction Laddering

Timing: Discovery

Run time
30-45 minutes

Group size

Why: Allow for an thorough understanding of the problem space by identifying needs, constraints, and opportunities

When: Useful to go beyond surface-level solutions and instead explore the underlying drivers and intricacies of user needs

This workshop exercise is part of the Workshop Patterns printed card deck.

A collection of workshop exercises that will help you ditch dull meetings and facilitate with confidence. It will help you master the design process and have more productive time with your team. The card deck will be ready for purchase in the end of 2023 and is now undergoing rigorous testing.

Reserve your deck!

Instructions for running this play

  1. Prepare a problem statement or user need to explore before the meeting.
  2. Step up the ladder from the problem or need, asking “why?”, considering options broader than the initial one.
  3. Continue until you feel you have reached a root cause or common abstract need. This is the top of the ladder..
  4. Climb back down the ladder, asking “how?”, considering options narrower than where you came from. This will provide ideas for how to address the needs.
  5. Consider continuing the exercise with How Might We… 

Tips to perfect this play

Master and adapt the play to fit your context and needs.

Tip: Reverse Laddering

Start with a lower-level "how" mechanism and ladder up to uncover the higher-level "why" motivations, providing a different perspective on the problem.

Tip: Parallel Laddering

Divide participants into smaller groups, each focusing on a specific aspect of the design question, and explore the "why" and "how" dimensions simultaneously.

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