2017 Jun 08

We’ve all heard it before: If you focus too much on features you will lose sight of the big picture. In other words, you develop tunnel vision.

The other day at work I did something that reminded me how easy it is to develop tunnel vision. Lucky for me the only consequence was some embarrassment and friendly ridicule from my colleagues.

Let me walk you through what happened…

I was chatting with a coworker over Slack about an upcoming release when it suddenly occurred to me that we were missing a key piece of functionality. Slightly panicked, I raised this concern to my coworker.  He reminded me that the feature I was worried about wasn’t included in this release. It was scheduled for the next one.

Oops, I jumped the gun on that one.

I was a little tired with my work that day and I was looking for a distraction. So I decided it might be fun to respond using emoticons instead of words. Let’s see, how can I express “jumping the gun” using only emoticons.

Here was my thought process…

Ok, first I need something that represents me. Let’s look at the common faces. No, these all express too much emotion. I need something more neutral.
face emoticons

Maybe if I look for a person rather than a face. Perfect, this one will do. A female with somewhat brown hair.
people emoticons

Now to find a symbol for “jumping”. This should be easy, let’s look at the action emoticons. Talking, walking, running, two playboy bunnies?!?!... Darn, no jumping.
action emoticons

What if I look under sports. Maybe there will be a symbol of someone doing high jump or shooting a basketball. Nope, nothing here really says jumping. Ugh, I am spending way too long writing this dumb message.
sport emoticons

Ok, let’s think. What other things do I associate with jumping. FROGS! A frog jumps. Maybe there will be something in animals. No frog, but there is a rabbit. Sweet, that will do!
animal emoticons

Ok, last thing, I need a gun. Uh oh, if I thought jumping was hard to find then a gun is probably going to be impossible. Oh, look at that. There is a gun along with lots of other weapons. Let’s not dwell too long on that fact and just send this stupid message.
object emoticons


...waiting for response...

response: Tina shoots rabbits!

And just like that I became a murderer of soft, fluffy animals. I was so focused on each element of my message that I lost sight of the whole. If I had taken a second to look at my message before sending I would have seen the alternative meaning right away.

Don’t lose sight of the big picture

Now this was a silly example, I know. But you can see how easy it was to get caught up in the nitty-gritty of a task and lose sight of the overall message I was trying to communicate. This problem is a lot more serious than emoticons when it happens in real-life projects with multiple teams and long lifespans.

Don’t get too focused on details and individual features because you will lose sight of the big picture. This is a problem that plagues most large scale projects. It is easy to get stuck obsessing over details when there are multiple moving parts and complex components.

The best designs are ones that have a solid base and holistic design. When a product lacks a clear foundation each feature feels out of place or hard to use. On the other hand, if you focus on the overall experience, moving from one component to the next feels intuitive to your users.

Everyone is prone to tunnel vision. We all lose perspective sometimes. That is why it is so important to:

Test your designs with people outside of the project! And do it often!

Usability testing helps to eliminate the negative consequences of tunnel vision. When you show your designs to people outside of the project you get the benefit of fresh eyes.

During a usability test you ask users to complete simple tasks using your product to see how easy or hard they are to complete. This is a great way to learn where users are likely to encounter problems or experience confusion. If users complete tasks with ease then you can rest assured that your design is strong enough to stand on its own.

Usability testing can be done at any stage of the project. You can use anything from a paper prototype, clickable wireframe, or fully functioning prototype. It is great to continually test your designs as the product evolves and increases in complexity.

The moral of my story: Tunnel vision will happen. It is better to keep fresh eyes on your work rather than risk being seen as a bunny killer.