Errors catch the eye, but Familiarity creates assumptions

I did something deliberately bad in a previous post, in which I solicited for feedback for a software testing meetup in my home county of Kent. I used a featured image that hadn’t been cropped to size, so it would look off-kilter and awkward when it was shared across social media.


This was to test a theory that I’ve had in the back of my mind for a while. I feel that well constructed, painstakingly created content floats past the eye of anyone idly browsing through a field of unfamiliar content. It’s just another right thing in a sea of right things.

We’ve been conditioned to expect online content to be neat and tidy, with properly aligned text, beautiful imagery and so on, so something that isn’t right sticks out. It niggles at you. Your brain yells at you that this thing is not right, and it causes a moment of hesitation before you move on. And that moment of hesitation is more attention than the polished content gets.

When looking through unfamiliar content, we’re paying attention. We’re that much more engaged with what we’re looking at because it’s stuff we haven’t seen before, and our brains LOVE that. But something very different happens when we’re looking at something familiar.

When we’re looking at something we’ve looked at a hundred times before, it’s very easy to overlook issues, as our brain can sometimes fill in information for us using assumed knowledge and familiar memories of previous interactions. This can cause us to gloss over problems while our conscious mind occupies itself with other things.

So the more familiar we are with something, the easier it is for problems within it to hide in plain sight. Which is partly why our end users, who aren’t as familiar with what we’re working on as we are, sometimes find problems which should have been glaringly obvious during testing.

While expert level domain knowledge is of paramount importance to the effectiveness of a tester, don’t allow familiarity to creep in, or allow assumed knowledge to paper over problems as you go.

Author: Dave Higgins

Anti-qualification, pro-experience (of which he has years and years) Evangelist for software testing. Champion of the importance of testing in modern software development. Guru of testing psychology and mindset. Also - Fan of beer, games and loud music.

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