Does this ever happen to you? You pass by the front window of a trendy clothing store and see a casual dress shirt displayed on a mannequin you really like. You go in the store and ask the clerk to get you the shirt you saw. The eager clerk gets you the shirt of your size, then adds “This shirt is our best seller this season! It will look good on you!”
“Damn right it will!” You pay for the shirt and get that warm ‘n fuzzy feeling. On your way home, you wonder when you should wear the new shirt. Maybe next day at work/school? Or save it for a special occasion?
When that day finally comes, you realize what a lying liar the clerk was. The shirt doesn’t look good on you at all, even though it’s the right size. In fact, you’re not even convinced at this point the clerk got you the same shirt you saw at all. You’re not delusional about your body, but you know you’re better looking than a headless dummy. For reasons you can’t describe, the shirt just looked better at the store.
It’s the same shirt. Chances are you’re just wearing it wrong. Of course, I’m using the word “wrong” subjectively, but I assume you are going after a certain look with that shirt. People in the fashion and advertising industry stage their products with a great attention to the details. Details that are so subtle they only register as a feeling to us. Thus, making it hard to mimic when we try it ourselves.
Take the shirt for example, if you pay close attention to the mannequin next time you go back to the store, you’ll see a great amount details in staging: the shirt is never buttoned up all the way up to the neck; the collar is pulled back some, leaving more open space around the neck area; the sleeves are unbuttoned, rolled up to the elbow; it’s not tucked in(if it is, then it has a vest over it); if you look on the back, it probably has pins there to make the shirt seem more fitted.
It doesn’t end there. The shirt is accompanied by the right accessories. The pants, the belt, the watch, the undershirt, the expensive jacket over it, the shoes and even socks are carefully picked to best compliment the shirt in terms of color, texture and style. It is done this way, so you buy the whole outfit, instead just one shirt. Clever marketing huh?
Before I go off tangent, let’s focus back on the shirt. It’s amazing how slight change in details can affect the overall appearance and the tone.
Above: five photos of the same black shirt. Each one gives off a different feeling and a personality. The difference sometimes lays within the arrangement of a single button.
“Pay attention to the details.” It’s a phrase we hear within the design and art community and we follow it studiously. But what’s in a detail? When it comes to web design, it can be the radius of a rounded corner, a 0.1em change in of font size, or 1px border versus 2px, padding and margin space between elements, using As instead of Bs in your hex code for coloring, the list goes on.
To me, what the detail is, isn’t as important as what it does. Details are there to facilitate the overall picture without overwhelming it. Details are there to achieve a feeling.
When asked what distinguishes the products that his team develops during an interview:, Jonathan Ives, the vice-president of design at Apple said:
A. Perhaps the decisive factor is fanatical care beyond the obvious stuff: the obsessive attention to details that are often overlooked, like cables and power adapters. Take the iMac, our attempts to make it less exclusive and more accessible occurred at a number of different levels. A detail example is the handle. While its primary function is obviously associated with making the product easy to move, a compelling part of its function is the immediate connection it makes with the user by unambiguously referencing the hand. That reference represents, at some level, an understanding beyond the iMac’s core function. Seeing an object with a handle, you instantly understand aspects of its physical nature – I can touch it, move it, it’s not too precious.
When adding details in our designs, we must question every pixel and every type use. There needs to be a reason for every design element, and the way they are. If we can’t identify what emotional response they’d have on our users, then we’re merely adding noise.