I liked this post on Medium by Sam Ladner about how design researchers need to think fast and slow. If you work in design or UX or whatever, you should read it.
The general gist is that problems can be approached with two different styles of thinking: “fast” thinking, in which the components of an idea are allowed to form in rapid succession without being challenged or tested too much, and “slow” thinking, where the opposite rule applies and ideas come into being via a more rigorous and methodical process. Design research will be more successful if you combine both ways of thinking, says the article, before going on to explain at what stages in a design process “fast” or “slow” thinking would be most appropriate.
When I read the piece, however, I found myself thinking of The Wire (as I often do) and specifically a scene where Baltimore detective Kima Greggs arrives at her first murder scene with her partner, Bunk Moreland. Here’s the discussion they have about “soft eyes”.
Bunk: You know what you need at a crime scene?
Kima: Rubber gloves?
Bunk: Soft eyes.
Kima: Like I’m suppose to cry and shit?
Bunk: If you got soft eyes, you can see the whole thing. If you got hard eyes — you staring at the same tree missing the forest.
Kima: Ah, zen shit.
Bunk: Soft eyes, grasshopper.
When I’ve approached design research projects in the past I’ve often thought about them in terms of “soft eyes” and “hard eyes”. There are various points along the way where you need to defocus—take a step back from everything you’ve put up on the wall or into your spreadsheets, stop yourself from staring at individual data points or considering specific questions, and allow the whole thing, everything you’ve learned or accumulated, just permeate your consciousness. Then you’re more likely to grasp overarching themes and patterns, those elusive things that lurk behind the data. This is how I interpret “soft eyes”.
“Hard eyes”, on the other hand, are needed at other times: when you do need to solve a very specific problem, to optimise something in your design, to understand why something isn’t working. This is when you step forward to focus on individual data points and questions, or apply checklists or other pre-defined analytical processes to solve your problem.
Knowing when you need “soft eyes” and when you need “hard eyes” is important. You can’t get by with one and not the other. And I think this applies just as much to “fast” versus “slow” thinking, as defined in the Medium post.
Postscript: Quora has a thread about Bunk and Kima’s “soft eyes” discussion if you want to read other people’s thoughts about what it means