“Pay attention to what you pay attention to!” – Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Here are two arguably true assumptions about designers:
Designers are admired for their attention to detail.
Designers are mired by their attention to detail.
Designers have a reputation for caring too much about details that no one else notices outright. Conversely, we are known for taking care of seemingly insignificant details that, when incorporated into the greater whole, significantly and noticeably influence how everyone interacts with the world around them. While our work can seem imperceptible, it is highly intentional. In fact, good design is ingrained in everyday life without any of us — designers included — even noticing.
Admittedly, designers can be meticulous to a fault. Zeroing in on minor details can take us off course when our vision becomes too myopic. Other times, we arduously sweat the small stuff, which can bloat project budgets. We’ve all been there. And we learn, over and over again, the importance of stepping back, evaluating design choices in their entirety, and discerning when the end justifies the means.
Now here is one assumption about designers that is inarguably true:
Designers steadfastly attend to detail.
Whether to our detriment or success, designers pay close attention to details because it’s our calling. If we’re truly present and thoughtfully examining everything we see, feel, and touch, real problems reveal themselves. More and more companies are adopting design thinking not because it’s buzz-worthy, but because honing design skills, like the ability to perceive, empathize, and iterate, helps solve problems that matter.
Let’s explore at how a web designer’s attention to detail can improve user engagement with a product or site. First, we’ll share an example of how it plays out internally at Something Digital.
QA Testing at Something Digital
White-glove attention to detail is part of every step in SD’s process, from discovery to deployment. But a prime example of when design thinking takes center stage — and is occasionally controversial — is during front-end QA testing.
For every project, the design team conducts an end-to-end comparison of mockups and pattern libraries to live sites. We’re not only looking for fidelity, ensuring that meticulously predefined rules are followed, but we’re also regulating consistency, cadence, and continuity. We report bugs that range from margin issues — adjusting space between elements so that content is evenly distributed, logically grouped, and legible — to functional errors, in which a page or an element on a page impedes the checkout process.
We’re not aiming for pixel-perfection, which is an impossible task given browser and device irregularities. The goal is to meet an acceptable standard. But that doesn’t mean attention to detail falls by the wayside. All documented QA issues are collaboratively classified as low, medium, high, or critical. And every issue is eventually addressed in order of priority.
Much to the chagrin of designers, margin and padding flaws are often considered low issues, because to technical teams, project managers, and clients, they are aesthetic and don’t directly prevent a user from accomplishing a task. And while true, designers will counter that these flaws could be proven over time to slow down or frustrate users, indirectly decreasing conversion. What if users can’t tell which step of a form they’re completing because the margins between the labels and fields is too great? What if they’re checking out on a phone and they can’t tap the correct input for payment method because the radio buttons are grouped too closely together?
It’s the role of the designer to see problems at more than face value, foresee how they might persist in the future, and critically examine if resolving them, however small, is worth the effort.
It can be a mistake to be nit-picky, jeopardizing scope. It can be a mistake to ignore details, jeopardizing usability. Designers walk a fine line, but if we’re self-aware, user-aware, and openly communicate with our co-workers and clients, our attention to detail can be what separates a functional website from a thriving one.
For more in-depth examples of how the SD creative team digs into detail, see Every Little Thing: Why Attention to Detail Matters, Part II.
Special thanks to swiss-miss for the continuous supply of design inspiration and inspirational quotes, some of which are featured here.