On Solutions

Published on July 7, 2010 (↻ February 5, 2024), filed under and (RSS feed for all categories).

This and many other posts are also available as a pretty, well-behaved ebook: On Web Development.

Solutions require problems. If you don’t have a problem, you don’t need a solution.

This is exactly why you should, whenever someone proposes a solution—which includes design and technical changesask what problem that solution solves, and to be specific about it.

If you don’t get an answer, you probably don’t have a problem and don’t need a solution.

If you get an answer, and let’s assume that answer reveals a real problem, you find yourself in need of a solution. That, however, does not necessarily mean the proposed solution is the solution—it may just be a solution.

You benefit from keeping this in mind, and from being smart about it. Have an idea of both the cost of the problem and the cost of the solution, and an understanding of when a high cost of solution still means it’s worth implementing it.

If you can’t tell when you’re dealing with a solution that lacks a problem, a solution that attempts to solve an ill-defined problem, or a solution that is far more expensive than the problem, then forget about the solution. It isn’t one.

CSS Media Queries constitute such a case after A List Apart made everyone remember them. Among the highlights, a fellow redesigning his site using media queries, overlooking, over all the hype, that 95% of what he did was possible a long time ago using floats and maybe a pinch of min-width. Ask yourself: What am I trying to solve, and is the solution I have in mind actually appropriate?

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About Me

Jens Oliver Meiert, on September 30, 2021.

I’m Jens (long: Jens Oliver Meiert), and I’m a frontend engineering leader and tech author/publisher. I’ve worked as a technical lead for companies like Google and as an engineering manager for companies like Miro, I’m close to W3C and WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly and Frontend Dogma.

I love trying things, not only in web development (and engineering management), but also in other areas like philosophy. Here on meiert.com I share some of my views and experiences.

If you want to do me a favor, interpret charitably (I speak three languages, and they can collide), yet be critical and give feedback for me to learn and improve. Thank you!

Comments (Closed)

  1. On July 7, 2010, 17:06 CEST, tobs said:

    On Problems

  2. On July 12, 2010, 17:39 CEST, Randy said:

    I believe every manager I ever worked for wanted to fix non-existent problems with expensive solutions so they could appear to be contributing. This is a policy more companies should enact. Before there can be a solution, there must be a problem.

  3. On July 31, 2010, 11:39 CEST, Nicolas Chevallier said:

    It’s better to have a solution but no problem, or a problem but no solution ? 😉

  4. On August 5, 2010, 17:42 CEST, Rob Ahern said:

    my manager also likes to fix “problems” with expensive solutions. lol
    maybe its a managery thing to do….

  5. On August 26, 2010, 22:42 CEST, tim said:

    must be referring to code, because i can’t think of ever having had a design solution before having a problem…

  6. On September 27, 2010, 3:41 CEST, Tim Wong said:

    Was reading through my past blogs and found a correlation.