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Detail in design, and why it's important

by Rollo Hardy

Details are all around us, from the phone you have to the shoes you wear. A chair might have four legs, a seat and back, but the details are what make it memorable, unique and function a certain way. It’s these details in the design that set it apart.

This is why details are important, they can keep us coming back, or they can keep us from coming back.

Being an Interaction Designer at CHE Proximity means I think a lot about details, and how the items we create come together and create value.

A few examples of how details come together in my work are; the task flows for a web app that helps someone find the perfect home, or the structure of a homepage and what questions the content will help someone answer.

These examples are the product of developing an understanding of the user’s needs, and designing solutions that accommodate these.

The details are what separate a good design from a forgettable one. So I’d like to share three examples of great details in designs from around the world, and the reasons they’ve resonated with me.

Details that talk

The first example is more of a broad concept than a single item — micro-interactions. A series of details strung together that help achieve a single task. Dan Saffer describes these as the moments you experience with a product that make up a task in its entirety.

An example of a micro-interaction would the spinning loader that sits at the bottom of a Pinterest board telling you there is more content to come. While this feature might seem unimportant, it’s the simplicity coupled with its ability to provide feedback being where it shines.

You don’t tend to notice, but these micro-interactions you have with a product can mean the difference in whether you use it or not.

Details that do

Another memorable example of detail is Naoto Fukasawa’s Muji wall mounted CD player.

The detail here being how you ‘hit play’ — pulling a cord starts the CD spinning as it begins to play music. This couples an unexpected action with the desired result, completing the physical expectation of how someone might understand this input to happen.

Understanding the relationship between the action and output in this instance results in a unique experience.

Details that delight

The final example is from late 2001. IDEO produced a series of design solutions for Prada in New York employing a human-centred design approach. The part of this project that’s resonated with me is the way the change-room mirror issue was solved.

The issue was that a normal mirror's reflection never lets a viewer see themselves from all sides, because it’s all in real time. Understanding this, the solution was to use a camera and screen setup with a three-second lag instead of a mirror. This three-second lag allowed viewers to see themselves on all sides, instead of awkwardly peering over their shoulders.

The reinterpretation of how we have use a mirror is the detail here that’s always fascinated me.

Details can be small, large, important or insignificant, but they should all be considered. That’s what makes well designed chairs such a pleasure to sit on.

So when working on your next project whatever it might be, remember the words of Dieter Rams “I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the details. I consider details more important than a great draft. Details are the essentials. The standard to measure quality by.”

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