The parable of the blind men and the elephant is used to illustrate how biases can blind us, preventing us from seeking a more complete understanding on the nature of things.
The story of the blind men and an elephant originated in India (Pali Buddhist Udana) from where it is widely diffused. Made famous by the great Sufi master Jalal ud-din-i Rumi (1207-1273 c.e.) in his Mathnawi of Jalalu’ ddin Rumi, the parable has been used to illustrate a range of truths and fallacies.
These three blind men who encountered an elephant for the first time attempting to learn about it by touch alone.
The experience of each man is unique because each touches a different part of the elephant, this ancient story can teach us something very important about user experience design.
So let’s start there,
The tale goes like this, One day three blind men happen to meet each other and gossip a long time about many things. Suddenly one of them recalled, I heard that an elephant is a strange animal too bad we’re blind and can’t see it.
Ah yes truly too bad we don’t have the good fortune to see the strange animal another one said the third one quite annoyed, joined in and said ‘See’ forget it, just a feel it would be great, well that’s true if there was only some way of touching the elephant would be able to know they all agreed.
It just so happened that merchant with a herd of elephants was passing by and overheard their conversation, He said you fellows do you really want to feel the elephant! Then follow me. I will show you he said the three men were surprised and happy taking each others hand they quickly formed the line and follow while the merchant led the way, after reaching their destination the merchant asked them to sit on the ground and wait a few minutes he let the first blind man to feel the elephant with outstretched hand he touched first the left foreleg and then the right after he felt the two legs from the top to the bottom with a beaming face he turned around to say “So the animal is just like that” then he slowly return to the group.
The second man was then led to the rear of the elephant. He touched the tail which wag a few times and explain the satisfaction “Hah how truly a strange animal truly odd, I know now I know” he hurriedly stepped aside.
The third line is turn came, and he touched the elephant ‘s trunk, which move back and forth twisting and turning and he thought “That’s it I have learned” the three blind man thanked the merchant and went on their way, each one was secretly excited over the experience and have a lot to say they all walked very rapidly and didn’t say a word.
Lets sit down and have a discussion about this query animal the second blind man said braking the silence a very good idea very good the other two agreed, for they also have this in mind, without waiting for anyone to be properly seated. the second one blurted out this animal is like our straw fence swinging back and forth to give us a breeze however, it’s not so big or well-made, the main portion is rather wispy. “No no no no the first blind man shouted in disagreement this strange animal resembles two big trees without any branches.
You’re both wrong the third man replied, this exotic animal similar to a snake. It’s long and around and very strong. On and on they argued, each one insisting that he alone was correct of course, there was no conclusion for not one had thoroughly examined the whole elephant and how can anyone describe the whole until he has learned the total of the parts.
Developers, programmers, designers and business people struggle everyday to make sense of user experience design something blindly to some degree because of touching only small, specific parts of the whole and coming away with a very narrow and fragmented understanding of what it means and to make matters worse, many practitioners of user experience design make it unnecessarily difficult to explore the discipline for multiple perspectives. So lot of what we seeing here is essentially a very limited set of predetermined questions and answers part of that simply results in complexity and discipline because its core focus is human beings, and let’s face it; we humans are pretty complex so it can be pretty time-consuming to explore USD thoroughly.
Without the ability to examine multiple perspectives the same time maintaining meaningful relationships to work together to create a memorable valuable user experience remain hidden the goal should be always to go back to the fundamentals.
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