“What are we forgetting?”

Recently, our Tech team and myself got together to make a list of all of the things we forgot about in the last year, when working on various projects. There are 20 items so far, and it’s still growing.

When your product is complex and you make “one small improvement”, the butterfly effect is amplified enormously. The more primary use cases you have, the more edge cases you have. The more users you have, the more rare occurrences will, in fact, occur.

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Well… ahem. This basket handle is significantly less usable now. Oops.

I was recently reminded of the butterfly affect while reading Michael Crichtons’ Jurassic Park. Mathematician Malcom describes how all systems, even when well-designed, will inevitably break down in some way. If you put dinosaurs on an island, no matter how suitable of a habitat they are provided, they will try to get out. And they will eventually find a way. The leader of this park refused to admit to this, and so he failed to be ready for it.

Chaos is not a problem to be solved, but a fact of reality. The problem to be solved is this: how are you going to be ready when, inevitably, things break down?

At this point, there are so many variations in how our product is presented to users that it’s impossible to list them all up front, and then test them all one at a time. What we have to do instead is make careful choices about the most likely areas of impact, and then ask ourselves “What are we forgetting?”

The question is frustrating, of course. If we remembered it, it wouldn’t be forgotten.

But it’s a question worth asking if you document the answers, after they are thrust upon you. If you’re not asking the question, you won’t write down the answers.

The importance of documentation is something that I have learned and relearned in the past few years I’ve been doing UX Design. Not only does writing things down relieve stress on the individual, it makes practices scalable. A person who can do a job well is valuable. A person who can do a job well and teach others how to do the same is invaluable. Documentation prevents unnecessary inefficiency and is worth a pound for every penny you invest.

As we refine our process, we get more output for every minute of input. We get more smooth sailing and less choppy waters. But we can never eliminate those last-minute ideas or those unexpected QA findings. And why would we want to? Every minute of unexpected chaos is a blessing- an opportunity to do better. The acceptance of this, by leaders and team members alike, is key to a smooth design process.

Best practices are things that work for everyone. You can Google them and make a checklist that serves your situation quite easily, and this is a great place to start. But your unique company/product/user base has its own set of behaviors and patterns of breaking down.  Know them and document them… or frequently find yourself repeating the same mistakes.

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Your inevitable chaos won’t be nearly this dramatic. Thank goodness.

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