The tunnel vision syndrome

Posted by: | Posted on: November 5, 2017

It all started with an internal discussion we had at work. Our Design Director asked all the consultants if they had any inputs into a presentation on User Centred Design being delivered to a group of developers.

A flurry of emails followed – ranging from developers not caring about cost and usability and only loving their code, through to the need to get developers in the design process early because they are so valuable to this process.

While all these emails went back and forth, it occured to me that this inherent instinct to protect one’s code or ‘creation’ is not just limited to developers, but it is in fact a human trait. We all do it! Let me explain.

I recently bought some Venetian blinds and being a handyman, decided to install them myself. Now, most architraves and window framings are quite simple and support Venetian blinds reasonably well. My house isn’t quite so simple and hence I had to use my creativity to install them. Five hours later and after numerous efforts to find studs and adjust the levelling due to our sinking house, I managed to install the blinds. Now let me make it clear that I am a Virgo, and hence a perfectionist. Stepping back to examine my hard work and effort, I couldn’t help but smile with arrogance at having won my battle with the window frame and successfully installed the blinds.

My wife, on the opther hand, took no more than three minutes to comment on the faults and imperfections of my installation. Funnily enough, I went into defensive mode straightaway, arguing what a great job I had done finding a solution to this difficult problem. I was almost heartbroken that she had focused on the ‘bigger picture’ rather than appreciating my hard work and intricate solution. At that moment, the work discussion mentioned earlier popped into my head. Oh my god, I’m one of those (referring to developers and their love for their clever code to a complex problem).

I had failed to step back and look at the bigger picture, which is what I do every day at work as a UCD practitioner. I had been sucked into a narrow tunnel of specific problem-solving and had totally overlooked the importance of installing the blind from an aesthetic point of view.

We all tend to get bogged down in the detail, especially when immersed in a specific problem solving activity.

So what am I actually trying to say? Two things: firstly, apologies to all those developers who constantly get referred to as “code-loving techies who can’t step back and look at the bigger picture”. It’s not just you, it’s all of us. Secondly, I want to emphasise the importance of UCD practitioners (and indeed anyone) constantly stepping back and questioning their own design solutions against the high-level goal.

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