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We get tunnel vision

During a usability testing session once, I watched a woman struggle for several minutes with a complicated application. This was nothing new—all the testers before her had trouble as well. But this particular woman said something that, at the time, surprised me to no end. She said, “This is really complicated. I wish there was a Help section or something.”

At the moment she said this, she was looking directly at a large, orange button, clearly labeled ... “Help”.

Because she was so focused on completing the task we’d asked her to complete, she rendered herself incapable of seeing what was right in front of her. How was this possible? How could she not see the giant orange button staring her in the face?

The answer is that we tend to get very focused on tasks. This sounds like a good thing—after all, diligently paying attention to the food you’re cooking can mean the difference between a gourmet meal and one that makes your guests ... queasy. It’s a good practice in life, but online? Well, that’s a different story.

Online, our focus means we neglect to notice instructions and other cues about how an operation should be performed, or how to get help, or how to do anything remotely intelligent.

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