The Nexus of the Obvious

I have had this idea rattling around in my head for a couple weeks. That’s already too long to think about something before sharing, so let’s see if it still makes sense.

Over the course of my design career, whether it’s in-house or client services relationship, I have noticed a common point in the discovery process. It’s similar in all the projects. For the sake of conversation, I’ll refer to this in the context of a client/designer relationship, but it could certainly apply between a designer and any stakeholders they may work with.

There is some information that the client knows, that is so intrinsic, so fundamental to their business that they assume, maybe even subconsciously that I must know it already.

I’m usually in the process of showing a design and we can all agree that it’s getting there, but it’s still off the mark–something just isn’t working. Over the course of the conversation and critique, they realize I don’t know this fundamentally obvious thing and they say something like “We have this [piece of critical information], would that be helpful?”

At that moment, I’m thinking, “this is so fundamental to what they do, it’s obviously something that they should have told me, maybe even before we started!” but I end up saying something like “oh yes, that would be wonderful. Let me make sure I understand [obvious thing]…” and conversation continues.

Then there’s usually an awkward moment where they realize that they didn’t brief me on something so fundamental, and where I realize that I really should have been able to ask basic, reality check questions during the discovery phase.

I call this The Nexus of the Obvious, where “the thing that you thought was so obvious that you didn’t even think to tell me because I obviously should have already known it” becomes “the thing that I obviously needed you to tell me.”