14. 01. 2022

"FOFO - Fear Of Finding Out" in digital projects?

Although the year begins, young and sleepy in the grey of winter, I love this time of new beginnings. The weight of the last year is cast off, as the coming one stretches out like a blank sheet of paper, just waiting to be written on. It is also the time of year when it is easier to break away from routine. Perhaps our impressions of things are also more honest now, as we reflect upon the past and look at things anew.

While browsing through various articles on the internet, I came across the term FOFO - the opposite of FOMO, “Fear Of Missing Out”. The acronym FOFO stands for “Fear Of Finding Out” and describes the fear of hearing an unpleasant truth. In medicine, FOFO is found in people who do not go to the doctor because they are afraid of a diagnosis. But we can also find this fear in other life situations - often we presume it to be indifference, disinterest, or carelessness. This can lead to wrong assumptions, and as a result, wrong decisions are made. A classic example is worrying about getting someone the wrong Christmas present. As crazy as it may sound, sometimes people are afraid to find out what the other person really wants by getting involved with them. What if it’s a wish the gift-giver can’t afford or doesn’t have time to prepare for. Reflecting on this topic lead me increasingly into the business world and to the experiences I have had in some of my projects.

Afraid of the users’ needs?

Even though a user-centred approach to the development of digital products is becoming increasingly used, it is unfortunately not always consistently implemented. For example, the designer who is advocating for the user is often introduced to the process only after the user research has taken place. Or the research was done without a clear definition of the target group. Concepts are developed at “higher management levels” or sometimes development has already started before the first validation with users has taken place. The reasons for such an approach can be varied. Sometimes it is the tight budget, sometimes the lack of time and the pressure to “show something”, sometimes just taking blind action.

It is important to understand all the circumstances in order to work with them and develop a solution that is really useful for people. Unfortunately, it is the users who fall by the wayside because the focus is not on them but on time, money or business constraints. Tackling honestly with these issues can be a challenge. And I wonder if FOFO could be the reason - the fear of looking at all these conditions and being faced with the real needs of users and and also being met with reviewing our past mistakes. By definition, fear is a reaction to a threatening situation. It is threatening because we feel that we have no control over these situations. But is that really the case? Do we really have no control? And what does it take to have control? How can I as a designer or researcher deal with it when I notice FOFO in digital product developments?

In medicine, there is a guide that describes how to deal with FOFO. In the spirit of drawing inspiration from everywhere, I have re-formulated this guide in such a way that it can also be used in the context of digital projects.

Seven steps to overcoming the “Fear Of Finding Out - FOFO”.

  1. What is going on - what is bothering you right now? (e.g., lack of budget, lack of time, expectations…).
  2. What is stopping you from finding out about the users? What would it mean to find out the real needs of the users? (e.g., admitting to wrong planning due to wrong assumptions).
  3. What is the aim of this project? (e.g. simplification of the booking process through digitalisation and saving of personnel costs) What if this goal is not achieved?
  4. Who would be helped by the product? What would happen if the product did not exist? What would happen if the product is not accepted by the users?
  5. Listen! Ask open questions - what, who, how, when, where? Repeat what you have heard so that the other person can hear it again. (Keyword: mirror)
    At this point, in the best-case scenario, you have been honest about the circumstances and realised that ignoring user needs will lead to wrong decisions.
  6. What is now needed to deal with the identified circumstances? (e.g., a workshop with all stakeholders to talk and plan about time and budget).
  7. What will you do now? Who can help you? How can I support you?


As a designer, we overcome our own FOFO daily, it is our job to wear our heart on our sleeves and risk creating something in this world, to transform fear into curiosity, and curiosity into fuel to meet the actual needs of people. I offer these questions as a guide to open good honest conversations to gain the clarity about what our users actually need. At the end of the day, it’s about honesty. And honesty needs courage, curiosity and openness.

Perhaps these three terms are good companions through the new year. In this sense: a happy new year.

DoreenFinal klein
by Doreen Papst
Digital Experience Design


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