Ricardo Vazquez at UX Copenhagen 2020
Ricardo Vazquez at UX Copenhagen 2020

About the speaker

Ricardo is a UX Manager on Shopify’s Retail Team, where he works on empowering the Retail team to produce their best work; raising the measure of quality holistically and intentionally. He achieves this by building, maintaining, documenting, and continually evolving the Polaris for Retail design system among other initiatives. Ricardo is always striving for courage, happiness of pursuit, and leadership from the heart. When not designing, you’ll find him noodling on his guitar, and rowing in rivers all over Canada.

About the case study/workshop “Wicked Problems”

Big or small, problems are all around us. Unlike ‘tame’ problems – which can be solved using traditional problem solving methods – wicked problems are a beast of its own. These problems are reactive, they are multi-threaded, and they are never-ending. Having coined the term in 1969, Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber sought out to address the crisis of public confidence in experts and planners at a time of rising affluence and inequality. After more than forty years, wicked problems are as relevant as they were then.

In this case study talk, we will delve into the history, properties, and approaches to solving a wicked problem. Through our time together, we will come to the conclusion that in order to create unprecedented outcomes, we must take into consideration our qualities, necessities, and opportunities, coupled with an appreciation of how they are interrelated. The opportunity to analyze, question, and invent is afforded to any creative individual who understands the full system in which they operate. We will discuss the concept of the adjacent possible, as a model for explaining how ideas develop and innovations are envisioned. Through the model of the adjacent possible, the audience will learn of some of history’s most innovative advances.

Moving past the conceptual rhythm of wicked problems, we will discuss and share real case-studies of how 3 organizations/individuals solved a wicked problem in their own domain. Through the lens of Integrative Thinking, we will discuss three approaches to solving a wicked problem: Decomposition, Double-down integration, and Hidden Gem Integration. Offering a real case-study with each of these approaches, the learners will gain concrete evidence of how a wicked problem can be tackled. More specifically, we will take a look at Walmart, Dr. Victoria Hale of One World Health Organization, and Taddy Blecher of the CIDA City Campus. We will examine their approach and success model for solving some of their domain’s toughest problems.

During the latter part of the presentation, we will uncover the common thread these three approaches have: all of these thinkers possess empathy and observation at their core. Design empathy unlocks the creative capacity for innovation. For us designers, tackling wicked problems as if they were design problems – even though they are outside of the traditional realm of design – leads to outcomes that are not only functional but emotionally meaningful.


– History of Wicked Problems
– Properties of Wicked Problems
– Graceful Rethinking
– The Adjacent Possible
– Integrative Thinking: Decomposition
– Integrative Thinking: Double-down integration
– Integrative Thinking: Hidden Gem Integration
– Empathy and Observation Model
– Framing and Re-framing
– Design Thinking and Root-Cause Analysis
– Understanding the Why