Attention to detail comes at a cost

Paul Boag

Adding details to your design may increase customer satisfaction and engagement, but they can often be hard to justify financially.

I love design details. Those little things that add character to a site and make you smile. It is something i have written about before and continues to obsess me.

I was reading an article about emotional intelligence, which was talking about this subject. It was a great article (if somewhat pretentious in its terminology). It was stuffed full of examples of these little things that turn a good site into a great one.

The post also referenced a wonderful site called LittleBigDetails. This tumblr blog posts a design detail everyday and some of them are wonderful. Whether it is an origami paper airplane in iOS mail or a hidden character under photos on foursquare, these are things that really bring a site to life.

iOS mail icons
iOS mail teaches you how to fold a paper aeroplane

The challenge with adding design delighters

The tumblr blog left me demoralised that I don’t include more of these kinds of details in my work. However, as I thought about it I began to realise why. Coming up with these kinds of details takes time.

Typically they are found on websites managed by in-house web teams who have the time to give the attention these details deserve. Take Twitter for example. On a recent visit there I discovered they had 40 designers. 40! Not coders, but pure designers. With that many designers working on a single site, you can ensure the details get the attention they deserve.

My Twitter Page

And its not just about actual time spent designing. Its also about mental time. Its about giving your sub conscious time to work through the design looking for places where it can be enhanced with these little extras.

In the world of client work where budget and timescales rule the day, these details are often lost. They do exist, but designers are forced to squeeze them in despite the project, not as an integral part of it.

How to justify the expense?

The problem is that such design details are hard to justify in terms of return on investment. How do you measure their success? How do you justify the time taken for such activities? As designers we know that cumulatively these things add real personality to a site and increases customer satisfaction. However, proving that is difficult.

When a client is presented with two proposals and one is charging twice as much for design than the other, which are they going to pick? Too often the answer is the cheaper solution.

Does that mean we should give up on such details? Not at all! We simply need to educate the client about the need for extra time.

How we do that is more tricky. I cannot claim to have the answers. Some hard numbers and research would help, but I don’t know of much out there. Do you?

I would be interested to hear how you go about explaining the need for additional design time to your clients. Let me know in the comments?