The Focus Trap

By Frank Garcia, CEO and Founder of Cycligent and Improvement Interactive

Kelly gets UIs. She is good at them. Her attention to detail is unquestioned. Today, she is making her layout pixel perfect. Every nook and cranny has been scrutinized, every radius checked. Every button is correctly positioned. Every border is the right width. Every color matches to the last bit. She has taken time to make sure every detail is just so. Now that she is done, Kelly sits back and admires her work. It is good, very good! Too bad almost no one will ever notice.

Do You See the Difference?

Take a look at the images above. What differences do you see? This is a real example.

Significant time was spent on the placement of the three dot menu and the caret underneath it. We sent images back and forth. We queried people in meetings to get their thoughts. We had great attention to detail and got those items in their perfect pixel positions. We also killed our productivity.

When Kelly, or really almost any of us, works on something, builds something, we become focused on it. You might be saying “well, that is pretty obvious and understandable,” and you would be right.

Tweet this: But this blog is about how many of us become overly focused. When this happens, we kill our productivity.

This applies to more than just fit and finish. It also applies to code, designs, requirements, etc.

Details Matter

This blog is not going to tell you that fit and finish, or that the style of your code does not matter. Of course it does. But many of us lose lots of productivity to what I call hypersensitivity. My definition of hypersensitivity is the point at which you lose productivity attending to the details almost no one else will even notice.

Those of you prone to making this mistake are probably already shaking your heads and going “That is what is wrong with developers, especially on UIs, they don’t pay enough attention to detail and it is just awful.” I am not saying that your UI should have glaring errors. What I am saying is that if you are spending time on things only you will notice, because you are so focused on it, then you are wasting your time.

Finding Balance

So if details matter, but being hypersensitive kills productivity, the question becomes “Where do you draw the line?” Users are the answer. It is not about what you notice when you are so focused. It is about what your users notice when they are using your application.

Reports are a great example. You might spend a tremendous amount of time making a report look fabulous, yet what your users want is the information. As long as the information is clear and concise and the format is not distracting, they will be focused on the content, not its form. This is not to say that users don’t like slick looking content, they do. You should include nice looking graphs where appropriate.

Just be careful not to obsess about if that graph type or this graph type is perfect, or fretting over its exact positioning. Just get one that provides the information quickly and clearly to your user and looks good. Remember, if it looks good but is hard for the user to understand you have won the battle but lost the war.

Again you can’t have glaring errors that cause users to lose focus on the content. But remember they are going to be more focused on the content than if that heading or graph is one pixel to the left or right. They are going to look at the information quickly and go on about their business.

By the way, there are people, users even, who will notice and call out every little thing that is wrong. If you already have a hypersensitivity tendency these people will send you into a tizzy. You must realize that these people are the exception not the rule. You can’t please all the people all the time.

Getting Productive

Just reminding yourself of “The Focus Trap” while you are focused will put you on the path to productivity. Pulling in users and letting them mute your focus tendencies in favor of theirs will get you to high productivity.

Don’t Trap the User

You must be careful, however, not to focus them on the things you are focused on by asking them leading questioning about your concerns. This will immediately ensnare them in your focus trap. They will become focused on the same things on which you are focused. Do this and your productivity will drop more than it would have had you alone been hypersensitive.

How Are We Doing?

We think we struck the right balance with the new Cycligent Git Tool developed by the team here at Improvement Interactive. Please check it out by signing up for the private beta at ( and let us know how you think we did.

Please note that all the links to our cloud offering are not yet active in the tool. For more information on the Cycligent Cloud and its benefits, please visit