All hail the detail

By Rob Varney

As we were being chauffeured back in a minicab one evening, my partner asked me what car we were in.

“A Toyota Previa, of course”, I explained, “look, you can tell from the design of the instrument panel.”

“Rob. You’re weird.”

A fair cop, of course. But, if I may indulge and continue the geeky car theme, take the Mk1 VW Golf GTi. Its gear knob was designed to look and feel like a golf ball. Every time you changed gear, you were reminded that you were in a Golf (although it was so named after the Gulf Stream, rather than the sport).  A conventional interior design lifted by this touch of sparkle.

But small design nuances (flourishes, if you will) may help to define your product and set it apart from your competitors, by creating a connection with its audience.

Give little ideas some oxygen

So how can we help to produce clever, witty, beautiful touches that can create memorable experiences? Of course, the onus is on the design team to come up with clever, thoughtful and appropriate ideas. They tend to come along when the designer is given some wiggle room to put their stamp on a creation. Indeed, the “design team” aren’t the only ones who would be coming up with flashes of greatness. A stifling environment is not conducive to creativity.

When there is a collaborative, mutually respectful development team in place, individuals are able to speak freely and comfortably. What might be intended as a throw-away comment can spark an idea into being, but those kinds of remarks only tend to get made where there’s space and trust: a bit of air in the room. Everyone should be able to influence the thought process and be free to express his or her ideas and opinion.

Customers have ideas too

During customer research where respondents are encouraged to react to stimulus, their stream of consciousness can ignite a thought process that can help define the details within a product’s development. It’s important that representatives from the design team are present in these research activities: useful details get missed when a summary report is produced.

And yes, too many cooks can sometimes spoil the broth. But more often than not, it’s too much thought and over analysis which roots out the idiosyncrasies that might have helped define a design solution. Sometimes, it’s better to just throw an idea in and push it as far as possible, rather than talk an idea out of being from the outset.

Magic moments

So how can we create small moments of magic in design? Let's start by pleasing ourselves. Not by disregarding the audience, the brief or budget, but by identifying opportunities for experimentation. Have some fun. Talk to people. Have your eyes open at all times.

Many of these ideas, quirks (call them what you will) may end up on the cutting room floor, but getting one or two into a piece of work might just help you put a bit of personality into the project and, more importantly, move the product on just that little bit further.

In the words of Charles Eames: “The details are not the details. They make the design.”

What do you think?