Design Essentials 1: Attention to detail

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This chapter of Design Essentials focuses on Attention to Detail and the important role it plays in the design process.
Attention to detail makes for a better experience in any industry. A candy on your pillow at the hotel or a mint with your check at a restaurant makes for a more enjoyable traveling experience. Detectives and law officials know that it is in the details of a crime scene that they find success. Engineers and architects know that the stability of the most enormous structure depends on the integrity of its smallest element.

Why then, should it be any surprise that the integrity and success of your design depends heavily on the attention you give to the details therein? Paying close attention to detail simply makes your design more professional.

In defense of simplicity: Detail vs. Clutter

Now, in promotion of minimalistic and simplistic design, there is a huge difference between attention to detail in design and simply cluttering a design with unnecessary details. Paying attention to the detail of a design means you consciously examine and polish every element of your design–whether simple or complicated. It means you only include what is necessary, and you make necessary elements beautiful. Many designers confuse creativity with clutter (hence the reason why we had to write “How to reduce clutter in web design“). Even cluttered designs can be created without attention to detail. Simplicity is a great way to focus on what is important in your design and then really make it shine.

Beauty is in the details

Many times designers wonder what they can do to make their designs look more professional. Probably 9 times out of the 10 that I get asked “What would make this look better?”, my answer involves a reference to the details. This one of the primary differences between beginning designers and experienced ones. Beginning designers hastily finish a project when it looks good while experienced designers aren’t finished until it looks great.

A few tips

Lastly, I’d like to suggest a few tips (please add yours to the list) that will help any designer learn to more effectively pay attention to the small details of his design.

  • Thoroughly analyze designs you think are impressive. Make a list of what makes them so great. Study them, talk to the designer, and learn all you can about the process, the motivation, and more.
  • Zoom. A one word solution that will help you identify flaws or mediocre design lapses. After you have finished your design, zoom in–and I mean close. Look at all the spacing, colors, shapes, vector graphics, etc. Get really close and inspect all the details.
  • Leave it alone, then return to it. After you have designed something that you think is wonderful, leave it for a few days. Allow time in your scheduling to do this and you are sure to catch any small details you overlooked the first time.
  • Get feedback from others. Many times we cannot see something because we simply have been looking at it for a long time. If we bring someone else on the scene and ask for feedback, most likely they will spot errors or have suggestions that we otherwise would have overlooked.

What do you think?

Is attention to detail really that important or should I step down from my soapbox? Please share with us any thoughts or experiences you might have regarding this essential part of design: attention to detail.

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About Preston D Lee

Preston is a web designer, entrepreneur, and the founder of this blog. @prestondlee

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  • Peach

    Couldn’t agree with you more. More attention to detail = More professional. Leave it alone, then return to it, is really useful imo. Thanks for sharing all these tips.

  • Richie

    I agree with all your points, Preston. Giving attention to detail is what most of us lack when it comes to designing. One small flaw is enough to create a bad impression on your clients. As they say, “You are only as strong as your weakest link”.

    Perfection is always a key for appreciation. Not only will your client be very impressed with your work, but you will be more than happy that you’ve improved from your previous design thus motivating you to do better.

    As you aptly put, getting feedback from fellow designers is one of the best ways to do this. Its like pouring your design through various filters and understanding what gets filtered, from different perspectives.

    I would like to add a point here, which I always try to practice – “Be a self-critic”. Never compliment your own work, this will only compromise on the quality and improvement of your design. There is always a scope for improvement, so look deeper and try to find errors every time.I always quote – “If you want to catch a thief, Think like a thief”. Analyse your work from the client’s perspective. This will help you a lot.

    Hope that was helpful… 😀
    Thank you so much for the article, Preston. Will surely share it with others.

  • Logo Design Monster

    I agree that the attention to the smaller details really does make a massive difference to the finished result and that walking away from a design for a few hours and then returning later for a fresh look at it really helps. Thank you very much for sharing. Great article and really nice site too.

  • Laneth Sffarlenn

    I totally agree that attention to detail is paramount to success and integral to a professional image.
    I’m currently studying proofreading and editing, and attention to detail is one of the core principals of this field – much of what you’ve written here regarding design carries across to writing, and the subsequent proofreading of said writing.

    The “Create, leave it for a time, then come back and review” is the best advice anyone could give, especially to someone creating something (design, writing, painting, etc.)

    I’ve been reading articles by you a lot lately thanks to retweets from a number of people across the community – yours is a voice deserving of the wide reach it’s getting and I look forward to reading more by you in the future.
    Regards, Laneth.

    • Preston D Lee

      Thanks so much for your kind words, it means a lot to know that people appreciate the content I put out. Thanks for visiting and commenting often!

  • Mahmudur Rahman

    Wow :) Tips are really awesome. Definitely I will follow these tips. Thanks for sharing this nice post.

  • Federica

    Well said (written). I agree with all your points and I always try to follow them. For me the most important step is the “leave it alone”: I often make substantial changes after a few days. Thanks for sharing these tips.

  • Ted Rex

    Great article about a topic that’s so easy to overlook as we designers are getting rushed to produce as much as possible for as little time/little money as possible.

    I made this one of today’s three links on my Design Thought for the Day blog:

    All the best, Ted

  • Web Design Kent

    Good tips especially the “leave it for a few days and come back”, thanks for a good read

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  • Cathy Green

    Less is more. That is a fact that is universal. Simplicity with a few crisp details is all that’s necessary.

    Great designs, Preston!

  • Craig Scott

    I completely agree with the idea of leaving a design for a day or two before sending it to the customer – I always notice things that should be changed that I didn’t notice before.

  • esther

    This is great information and it is so true! Simple is always better.

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  • Cairns Logo Girl

    Thanks for the article.

    Attention to detail is the thing that will make a designer, because a really amazing design should be all about detail. I don’t mean it has to be complicated and intricate, I mean the detail of the requirements and meeting those requirements.

    Keep writing, cheers!

  • Fashion Girl

    I want you always make new articles like this.I hope you will read my this comment.Attention to detail is the thing that will make a designer, because a really amazing design should be all about detail. I don’t mean it has to be complicated and intricate,I don’t mean it has to be complicated and intricate, I mean the detail of the requirements and meeting those requirements.

  • Jon Pianki

    Once again…great article! I have to tell you that I am loving this blog. Articles are practical, easy to read/follow and full of relevant and useful information. Checking your site has become part of my morning routine.


  • Manish

    Thankyou :)