Written by Ian Douglass
Details are everything. No – they aren’t part of it or some of it, or even most of it – they’re everything.
Through my first year in Design school at Western Washington University, I never really paid attention to the details. I would complete each project, for the most part on time, and would just try to satisfy the project guidelines. After stumbling through a few quarters this way, there was a project that stands out in my eyes as the point where I changed my fundamental view on design. Our assignment was to create a unique piece of furniture out of plywood – within two weeks. This required initial ideation sketching, material sourcing, fabrication and finishing – all the while enrolled in other classes too.
My goal was to create an 18”x18” cube side table. The interesting thing about this design was that it was illuminated. The center of the cube was hollow and had a blue cathode tube lighting system (this was before LEDs) which would make a custom frosted glass top glow blue. I was actually one of the few people who really focused on a simple design – so I had plenty of time to work on it.
Two weeks passed by quickly.
Presentation day arrived and you can only imagine the site of everyone lugging in their huge projects into the hallways, filling them with an elaborate maze of plywood veneers and structures. There were some really nicely finished projects – a sink, a desk – a lot of variety.
Time came to present my “cube” to the professor and I was fairly confident I nailed this one. I explained my methodology behind the project and my goals, my professor Arunas nodded alone, registering my every word. Once the explanation of my methodology, build and design was complete, Arunas sort of took a moment to gather his thoughts. He then told me something that would stay with me to this very day. He highlighted that my design was simple, elegant and well built – fulfilling all the criteria of the project. Then he hit me with the unexpected – “You neglected to see the cord as part of the design.” How could I be so stupid? He was absolutely, irrefutably right.
“You neglected to see the cord as part of the design.”
I had a cube and cut a hole into one side to let the cord out. Why did I do that? The hole immediately gave my equally sided cube a backside. The professor suggested I could have raised the cube with some small feet, allowing the cord to slide under – and why not even paint the cord, or curl it like a tail to add personality? I had completely ignored it. From that point on, a switch had been flipped in my design brain: details mattered – a lot. The details are where the genius really comes into play and is showcased. Without details to stand out, what would make an experience or product unique and memorable? Without details, why would you buy one vehicle over another? Without particular details, what makes one meal better than another? In order for designs, products, advertisements (or even your last date for that matter) to be remembered – they must have something unique that sets them apart. This is where true design plays its biggest role.
I urge you, don’t be that multi-million dollar business that spends hundreds of hours developing a marketing plan only to neglect the actual ad that your customer sees. Don’t be forgotten because you neglected the details.