Small Details Matter

small details in a cathedral

Oftentimes we just want to ship something; to get it out the door as quickly as possible. This is usually a great thing. But sometimes we’ll make up tons of extra things to add to something because we fear failure (guilty as charged). So getting something out the door is a great way to build momentum, pat yourself on the back, and bask in the accomplishment of actually creating something. (Lots of people don’t usually get that far. Kudos!)

But once the party hats are put away and the plastic cups cleaned from the front lawn, it’s a great idea to start looking at tuning up some of the finer details that might have been glossed over just to meet the deadline and “ship”.

I’ve been trying to focus on some of the finer details in the LifeDev design. This is really small, nitpicky stuff, but I’ve been using Google Website Optimizer to ensure that certain areas of my site are making the most impact. The design is a bit more image heavy than other sites, so I’ve been tweaking layout settings and moving the images to a CDN so that the images load quicker. (FYI: CDNs make a huge difference in performance gain. The load times on LifeDev went from 7 seconds down to around 3.5. As Google is taking site speed into account in their rankings, cutting page load time in half could make a difference in the results.)

Van Halen had a famous performance contract that stated that they were to be provided with a bowl of M&M’s without a single brown one. If there were any brown M&M’s found, the band could legally back out of any concert.

Van Halen's Brown M&M contract clause

Van Halen’s famous “Brown M&M” clause

On the surface it may have looked like the band was trying to be, well… typical rock stars. In actuality the M&M clause was added so the band could quickly tell if they needed to look closer at the rest of the venue’s preparations for the band. David Lee Roth explained a typical walkthrough:

So, when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl . . . well, line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error. They didn’t read the contract. Guaranteed you’d run into a problem. Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show. Something like, literally, life-threatening.

If the venue could pay attention smallest details, the band knew that the larger details like pyrotechnics and lighting would be taken care of.

Apple is a company known for paying attention to detail. Aside from refining their product for decades, they’ve gone so far as to take “packaging art” to a whole new level. Have you ever seen any of the unboxing videos? People actually take the time to record on video what it’s like to unwrap their Apple computer or iPad. Phenomenal.

Sure, things like product packaging are tiny compared to the actual product. But Apple understands that it sets the stage for the product. They’ve made buying the process of buying their products a journey, from unwrapping to booting up for the first time. Apple knows that if they take care of the small details like packaging, people trust that they’re taking care of the larger details like hardware construction.

It’s all about perception. Details provide a glimpse into the bigger picture. They can be the small little nudge that gets people to subscribe, or buy your product, or refer you to someone.

I don’t know where this quote came from, but I love it. Update: Savvy reader Jeff informs us that the quote is from Maya Angelou.

They may not remember what you said, but they’ll certainly remember how you made them feel.

Anyway, just sort of thinking out loud. What do you think? Are details as important as I’m giving them credit for?


Speaking of small improvements going on around here:

I’ve recently started the LiveDev Links site. I post anywhere from 2-5 links that I find useful to LifeDev’s community. Only the cream of the crop for you guys :) I’ve got a daily link digest newsletter that you can sign up for too. Great stuff to help you get through your day.

Also, the main LifeDev email newsletter is not only a) sending full-text articles, but b) also has a snappy new design. It looks and feels almost identical to, and I’m really proud of it. Check it out if you’d prefer to get these article in your inbox.

Leave a Comment

{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Jeff July 6, 2010, 8:33 am

    The “how you made them feel” quote is from Maya Angelou.

    • glen July 6, 2010, 8:34 am

      Jeff: You’re a champ! Updating the post now… thanks!

  • Niklas July 6, 2010, 8:15 am

    I agree here, both on personal projects and commercial. Getting a rough project out of the door into the “world” feels great, but make sure you have energy left to fix the upcoming stuff.

    (Googles “Release early, release often” comes to mind)

    However, when working with clients, it might be the reverse. Make sure you have that extra hours to fix the nitty gritty details that might otherwise disturb the user and client. I know campaigns that were awesome campaigns with 3D and beautiful images and movies, truly mind blowing. But then in the end the client were disappointed because the first starting page (think Apple “packages”) weren’t 100%. The developers simply didn’t have the time and de-prioritized the nitty gritty stuff thinking the overall solution kicked as anyway.

    So it’s two camps, just make sure you have the energy to go the full mile. And if not, maybe it’s time to cut down on some of the features (instead focusing fixing the small stuff and then add more features)

    • glen July 6, 2010, 8:19 am

      I agree. It’s hard to draw the line on where to stop.

      I’ve also found that clients place a LOT more emphasis on deadlines than we might place on our own projects. I think it’s important to always re-iterate. With client work it may not be in the contract (or worth it) to constantly improve and evolve the product. Deliverables first. But our own projects… that’s another story. Well, most of the time. As with anything, there are plenty of ways to find holes in my theories :D

      Great stuff Niklas!