A blog by Joe Watson, our resident Instructional & Game Designer
A Loose Definition
This isn’t a problem unique to videogames or game design. There are likely others names for the phenomenon, but it is best embodied by a particular saying: being ‘too close’ to a project, often such that one is unable to perceive flaws or consider elements objectively.
There are a couple of reasons why you might become afflicted.
The first is that, much like the follies of hubris, design blindness is especially predisposed to the passionate and the knowledgeable. Our best can be our worst. Designers that rely too heavily on experience (first or second-hand), or those with steadfast convictions about the way things should be done, can frequently overlook the unique circumstances of a problem laid before them.
Immediately jumping to a solution for an issue, without any real consideration for alternatives, can be highly indicative of this.
Another is the understanding that no one can fully divorce themselves from their design. These plans are spawned of us and our personal human experience. Our work is a reflection of us and as such it is hard to mark oneself inadequate, especially before others.
It is hard to create something, using care and passion, and accept that you hate the result of all you poured into it.
One might consider the extenuating circumstances around the project’s ideation and production. Sometimes it is not the designer but their environment or the relationship they hold with the project. Negative pressure, such as anxieties about deadlines, disputes with colleagues, or additional influences from a myriad of potential sources can affect one’s judgement and outlook toward the project.
Some difficulties and worries are to be expected, but no one working to get the project out of the way or avoiding it altogether can perform at their best.
In actuality, most cases of design blindness tend to be a combination of the aforementioned.
You have been working on a project for a long time. It started smoothly enough, but now you are in danger of beginning to slide either over-budget or past deadlines. An issue arises, flagged by the overly-involved and vocal client. You only need to take the gist of their problem before you’re thinking back to possible solutions, mindful of cost and time to implement. You immediately discard some options and pick one that seems reasonable or maybe a selection of options for the client to choose from, making your suggestion with the weight of your expertise and the belief you know best.
Which, of course, you may very well do – in that instance – yet there was little due consideration for the client’s concerns or the alternatives potentially available to you.
If you think that you are immune to design blindness, then you aren’t. The truth of the matter is that everyone is susceptible, in the same way that we are incapable of ever being truly objective. All we can do is implement as many precautions as possible to mitigate the effect.
What can be done?
Humility is the first step. You can’t be aware of the risk without accepting it as a genuine threat.
You will also find it invaluable to avoid designing in a vacuum.
- You should always be involved with the client and other stakeholders
- Take it a step further and bring in other designers to critique your work
- If the project’s status permits, test and test again with the intended end-users!
- Align with your team by sharing your vision personally – be available and visit regularly
Always find out as much as you can about a given project or influencing circumstances of a problem.
- The more you know, the more of an informed decision you can make
- Presumptions are often costly affairs in the end – the worst are the unconscious ones
- Think back to past projects and run through a checklist of things you may have forgotten to ask about or consult colleagues for other angles
- After you think you understand, make sure you do. Align your understanding with the client or stakeholders – see that it matches up before proceeding
- Finally, always try to perform further research. You might have solutions already, but there are likely more worth considering