The Nexus of the Obvious

There is a certain scenario that unfolds in some designer/client relationships (or designer/anyone relationships) where an enormous and previously undetected misalignment between two parties suddenly becomes evident.

Here’s the scene, where I’ll use myself as an example so the rest of you can mock me if you like…

I’m walking through a basic prototype, which we have worked on for the last few weeks. I explain, “Here we’ll be showcasing X and Y.”

Things are generally positive as the client takes their time asking a few questions. I can’t put my finger on it , but something seems off. Then the client chimes in, “This looks great. I really like what you’re doing with X and Y. Can I ask a question? What happened to Z? That should be included here.”

“Sure, that makes sense, but Z is reserved for logged in users, so it’s not included here.”

“Right, but this service is part of the super suite of services, so we can’t show it unless you’re logged in, meaning that anyone that sees this will have Z.”

Wait, what?

“Oh… It’s part of the super suite? I thought it was on its own… so the whole experience is only for logged in users?”

“Yes. I thought you knew that.”

Are you serious?

“Oh… well… (blink)…”

Oh my fucking god, how did they not tell me this? 

“The rest of it looks good, but we really need to see Z. We might not have mentioned that thing about login, but that’s definitely part of this.”

“Oh, ha, heh, sure. I can definitely incorporate that immediately because putting this behind a login certainly affects how we’ll steer this interaction doesn’t it? Let me just make a note in Basecamp (frantic typing, trying not to look frantic).”

Sweating. Pulse rising. 

The client has that cool, office-appropriate smile. “Sure.”

And… scene.

This is the moment I call The Nexus of The Obvious:

  1. one person thinks a subject is so obvious that it doesn’t need to be stated
  2. another person thinks the same subject is so obvious that it simply must be stated

Misalignment, and hilarity, ensue during an awkward and inevitable moment where the unstated assumptions about what’s obvious are very suddenly exposed. No one ever thinks to bring up the obvious.

This is also a situation where, as a designer, you want to die, crushed by the volume of your own self-doubt. Where did I go wrong? How could I miss this? I can feel the cool hand of death wrapping its fingers around my throat. Sweat begins to bead at the hairline. Visions of my children becoming juvenile delinquents flash before my eyes as their incompetent designer of a father can no longer support them. Everyone in the room must be looking at me thinking, ‘Why are we paying this guy again?’

On the other hand, “Hey, client, what the fuck? You didn’t think it was important to tell me something so obvious about this project and your business? What is wrong with you?”

All kidding aside, the truth is this happens, but it is avoidable.