The drunkard’s search

“There is the story of a drunkard, searching under a lamp for his house key, which he dropped some distance away. Asked why he didn’t look where he dropped it, he replied ‘It’s lighter here!’. Much effort [...] in behavioural science itself, is vitiated, in my opinion, by the principle of the drunkard’s search” – Abraham Kaplan (1964)

It may be an old story, but it’s something we’re all doing somewhere in our work. The real challenge is finding out where and dealing with it. For example –

  • Tinkering with the details on a single high traffic page, because that’s what’s easiest with your MVT package (Button colours and labels don’t push the needle far, but it’s so hard not to scratch the itch).
  • Never going back to challenging design problems because “the decision has already been made”, and instead turning your attention to the new stuff because it’s shinier and more exciting.
  • Focusing on areas that you’ve already been running research on, on the logic “we’re looking here already, there must be some gold here if we keep trying!”
  • Looking at just one small area of the site because that’s what the client asked (UX problems are rarely polite and tidy enough to stay within the area originally scoped).
  • Always reaching for the same research tools (e.g. just analytics), because that’s your comfort zone.

I’ve said this before, but we designers are very good at turning our lens of analysis on others, but we often forget to turn it on ourselves. If you’re doing your current project with the exact same approach your the last one, chances are you’ve missed the opportunity to do something better.