The last 5 to 10 % of a project is always to finish but it’s important to make that final push. This is what separates the “just OK” projects from the truly exceptional ones.
While small details are not always perceived by casual visitors, but when they are out of alignment, it sends a subconscious trigger to our brains. When all the aspects of a website have uniform layouts, colors, interactions, and styles, this structure informs users they can trust a website, a company, a brand.
Details matter because when they are put together correctly, they create something greater than the sum of their parts.
The details are not the details. They make the design.
— Charles Eames
I’ve been working for the last few weeks on a couple of projects, one client project and one internal project. In both cases, I’m amazed how much time can be consumed when you obsess over getting little details right.
But the little details matter.
Having a set design language in place for each website is an immense part of paying attention to detail. This means certain actions always have the same cues. Layout, fonts, colors, shapes, and actions have a set structure. Visual and interactive prompts always have the same meanings and results.
It turns out that getting little details right produces positive emotional states that makes a website easier to use. A website that is easier to use and has predictable outcomes and reduces cognitive load. This means potential customers spend less time learning how the website works, and they are more likely to stay and explore.
On an e-commerce website, this means they are less likely to leave because of frustration, and more likely to complete purchases.
When small details are off, most customers do not see them consciously, but their mind registers it subconsciously. If there are enough of these little details out of place, the customer will perceive your website as less trustworthy, even if they cannot articulate that.
Enterprise level websites have incremental web development being done continually. Large companies understands that websites require ongoing maintenance, so small fixes can be done incrementally. Mid-sized and smaller businesses are less likely to circle back around to work on improving small details after a launch, so it is doubly important to get the small details right before their sites get pushed live.
How To Avoid Skipping Details
Refining details on an already existing site can be challenging. One to make gradual progress is to break all the fixes into stages. These can be deployed little by little, as each stage is completed. This is something I am currently in the midst of on this site.
But for many sites, this may not be practical. New site launches should have all the details worked out before launch, and smaller existing sites can usually have all changes ported from a staging site to the live site.
I believe the big issue in web design is having the space to actually worry about details in the first place. This is part of the reason I have been gradually moving away from hourly projects towards flat fee and value-based projects.
Why Hourly Billing Is The Enemy of Detailed Work
With hourly billing, there is no incentive for clients to insist their web designers take longer and pay attention to detail. If anything, hourly billing encourages smaller businesses to cut back on worrying about details, as this is billable time to them. This can easily cause friction in the client-designer relationship.
Having that extra space to take to take a project from 90% to 100% is critical, if the goal is to produce websites that are as effective as possible. This time margin allows a designer to do their best work and do all the things that may normally get rushed through. With hourly billing, this margin is almost always impossible.
Building time into projects means we can complete the details that might normally be skipped, including:
- Consistent interface design
- Extra mobile device testing
- Quality assurance testing
- Uniform layout and alignments on mobile
- Refactoring for performance and speed
- Better written content
Including A Time-Margin For Quality
Moving from hourly billing to value-based pricing means that a design shop has to get better at evaluating how much time a project will take to complete. The larger the project, the less room for error there is in evaluating time. It also means changing the structure of our client on-boarding. But the benefit of moving from time-based projects to value-based projects means clients and designers are no longer at cross-purposes. It means quality is once again a realistic focus, and not just speed of completion.
Make no mistake, deadlines will always be important. But it’s hard to turn out top-quality projects on a consistent basis if you’re not including a time buffer in each project. When you’re on a website assembly line, where speed and price are the only measuring sticks, quality will never be a top priority.
Margin leaves us time to see details and take care of them. Even if our clients and their customers do not notice them consciously, they notice them subconsciously. Bake time into your process, so the details in your design can be well thought out and implemented intentionally and purposefully.