Spring time. I’m standing in a parking lot on a saturday morning, surrounded by strangers suited up in biker gear, and motorcycle helmets. We’re here because we want to learn how to ride a motorcycle. The instructor is standing in front of us, guiding us through the next exercise we’ll do on the bikes.
When you start off on a motorcycle, the first thing you learn is to balance, and to feel the weight of the bike shift as you move.
The next thing you learn is to look where you want to go. Looking where you want to go is absolutely crucial when doing anything more advanced than going in a straight line, at slow speed.
In WWII bombers would take off, fly to their destination, aim for their target, drop their bomb payload, hit the target, and fly home. After a while they realized the last three steps sometimes weren’t happening. Instead of dropping their payload, they found out some pilots were flying directly into their target. Eventually researchers found out what was happening: the pilots were so focused on their drop target that it inadvertently became their flight path target. They named it target fixation.
Target fixation applies to motorcycling too. Take cornering for example, on a motorcycle, which can be scary even at slow speed. Wondering “Am I going to be able to turn tight enough to make the corner?”. As soon as you let that fear creep in, instead of focusing on where you want to go, you begin to focus on where you don’t want to go — the edge of the road where the corner is tightest — and that becomes your target.
Focusing on the right thing — the objective, the positive outcome you want to achieve is important to get to where you want to go.
When it comes to design, target fixation is just as applicable and important. By fixating on small incremental changes, you can never innovate and create large leaps. In order to create truly innovative change, you must look where you want to go.
Defining a vision takes experience and insight, which does take time to gather. It is not a quick, or simple task, but it can be extremely rewarding. In order for a vision to be successfully adopted, it must: align with how the business operates and thinks, solve a real problem that users face, be communicated clearly, and come at the right time.
Designers are in a unique position when it comes to communicating a vision. We have the ability to see the future, show how it could work, and anchor the feedback in something tangible. To create a vision takes courage, you are putting something out there that is a leap of faith, and it might not work out, but it’s absolutely worth it.
Step One: Gather Context, and decide on a direction
- What does your company value? By understanding the high level values of your company, it can provide direction into what kinds of problems and solutions could be a good fit.
- What are the problems that users are vocal about, but are not on the company roadmap? Understanding user needs is important to make sure that this vision is solving real problems. Do some digging to understand why these problems haven’t been solved? Are they misaligned with the company values? What’s preventing them from being solved? Is it ambiguity? The scope and difficulty of the problem?
- Ask your teammates, your boss, your directors, what are the problems and challenges that keep coming up with them?
- What is the CEO passionate about? How do they think, and approach problems? How are they oriented? What are their objectives: Growing the business? Growing the market size? Increasing lifetime customer value? Creating new features? Creating a long-term platform approach?
- After gathering this information, what are the opportunities you see?
Step Two: Create a prototype that clearly shows the value of this approach
- Brainstorm ways that this problem could be solved. Try to generate as many ideas as you can in five minutes. After generating a bunch of ideas, take the promising ones, and generate five more ideas based on each of them, adding depth.
- Create low fidelity protoypes: Sketch out some of the ideas, and share with team members who have high context on what you are sharing. Incorporate their feedback.
- Create a high fidelity prototype: Create a prototype which clearly (the key word) shows the value of the approach to those with low context. Think of this prototype as something a user/customer would stumble upon, and with no additional context/documentation need to understand. The more focused the prototype is on showcasing the value of the opportunity, the less chance of people getting bogged down in irrelevant details, which could confuse them.
Step Three: Share Widely, and gather feedback
Get in front of people, and capture their feedback. Try and get it in front of the people who would care about this opportunity, such as the people you asked in step 3 of stage
Step Four: Next Steps
You’ve done the hard work of gathering information, creating the prototype, and sharing it with those team members and stakeholders who it could matter to. So what happens if it’s not clear what to do next? Here are a couple different ways to troubleshoot some of the problems that might come up, based on the feedback you receive.
If the Feedback Is:
- This isn’t where we want to go: Use it as a jumping off point to learn more about how this approach is misaligned with the company direction. After gathering the information, share what you’ve learned. Is it worth a change in direction?
- This is great, but we are too busy with another project to do this: It’s important that any team balance short/long term priorities. Ask yourself: Do we have a balance of short and long term priorities? Are we spending too much time on one side or the other? If all your efforts are short term, make a case for the benefits of a long term approach. If after doing that it’s still not working, give it a break and revisit in a couple months, or when it becomes relevant in conversation.
- I love this, it’d be great if it also did XYZ: Ideas that are additive can be a blessing and a curse. On one side they show great interest, and spark potential improvements. It’s also a risk for the vision to lose it’s focus, and become crowded and lost in a sea of ideas. It’s important to separate feedback from ideas. The goal of feedback is to identify what works and what doesn’t, not to jump to solutions. The creator(s) of the vision owns taking feedback and deciding what to do with it.
- I get it, but I don’t understand why it matters: The concept may not showcase the value clearly enough. The concept might be too much change all at once. Those giving feedback might need more context to understand the non-visual components of the problem (data, a write up, mental model diagrams). You might not have the right audience to help you champion this project. Keep sharing, and you might find another team/teammate that this project and solution could be hugely impactful to.
No matter what happens next, you’ve done something great. You’ve put yourself into passionate work that has the potential to create meaningful change.
By clearly envisioning the long term target, it makes the steps to get their clear, automatic, and instinctive.
The target is for you to decide. Where do you want to go?