Often in the middle of design projects, I find myself ensnarled by hundreds of things that need attention. There are stakeholder demands to be met, decisions to be made, tests to be run, details to be fleshed out. It’s at moments like these that we risk losing sight of the big idea we’re giving form to.

What are we doing here? What’s the point of this product/service/environment? Does it truly serve the needs of the client? Does it truly serve the needs of our customers? What is it in service to?

It’s not enough to have a parti — we must take time to pull back from the detailed work to look at the big picture, to ensure the parti is still honoring the needs of the project. It’s important to re-establish a wide-angle shot of the project every once in a while if we are to keep on track. I find this difficult to do by myself. By the time I’m in the middle of the project, I’m already too familiar with its gestalt to have an objective understanding of the state of the whole. So how do you go about it?

The best way I’ve found to re-establish this big-picture understanding of the whole is to have to explain it to someone else, someone who is unfamiliar with the project. It may be a designer or developer who is just joining the team or a new stakeholder who needs an update. While on the surface it may seem wasteful to stop work to bring others up to speed, it’s incredibly helpful to have to articulate the project “from zero.” These on-boarding sessions can be opportunities to make minor (or sometimes major) course corrections. I’m always surprised by how many things I realize I’m taking for granted when I do so.