Find magic in the details

We begin every project with the intention of creating something amazing.

If we’re creating a new brand, we want it to resonate on a deep level with people. If we’re creating an interactive experience we want users to glide through it, effortlessly achieving their goals. That stuff’s really hard. Users have to be comfortable in an environment they’ve never seen before and they have to get exactly what they want out of it. It requires magic. The magic can be found in the details. Here are some ways we look for opportunities to find magic in the details.

1. Turn negative into positive

Shit happens. Mistyped phone numbers, missing digits in credit card input fields, and dreaded “session timeout” messages. But that’s all right. We deal with adversity and bad news in life. We take it on the chin. Offline, bad news is delivered with empathy. It’s delivered with a smile, maybe an apology or ideally both – and most often, an alternative course of action. Like that time when they ran out of organic spirulina at your favorite juice bar and Gustav offered you double kale instead – yum! So why not do the same when our users encounter an error in our application design. We so often resort to red outlines smothering input fields, abrupt explanations and exclamation points that shout “ERRORERROR”. Why so severe? The missed digit isn’t the end of the world and it’s certainly easily fixed. There are a few crucial requirements when it comes to error states. They must be easily found and explain what the issue is. But we can work harder to solve these problems without taking such a punitive tone with users.

Why all the red? Contrast helps the user locate the error so as long as we maintain contrast we can use other, less severe colors to highlight an error and put a positive spin on it. We can also use color with purpose in a positive way to help the user understand when an error has been fixed (look out for our article on color with purpose coming later this year).


The way we speak about errors is an opportunity also. There’s no need to be so abrupt. Sure, brevity is important but a little manners go a long way, as does humor (where appropriate). Every time we speak to users is an opportunity to bolster trust. Being supportive in how you explain issues shows users you care. An apparently negative experience can be turned into a chance to show users we’re there for them.

2. Say it like you mean it

If your application sounds like an application, people will relate to it the way you would expect them to relate to an application – the same way they might relate to a robot. They’ll be stiff, formal and uncomfortable. If you speak to them in a real and relatable way you’ll develop a relationship, a high level of comfort and a trust that compels your users to continue to engage on a much deeper level. Be real, be natural, be human.


3. Turn inaction into action

Users are confronted with empty screens and lists in applications for many reasons – perhaps a complex reporting app has yet to run any reports or a social feed doesn’t yet have posts. In most cases there is going to be something populating the list but it’s just not there yet. So put something there for them. Use the space to tell them how to populate the list or if you know through their behavior that they already know how to populate the list, tell them about a new feature or how they can get more use out of an existing feature.


4. Lose sleep over leading

One of the most important aspects of what we do is craft. We obsess over details. We fine-tune, tool and perfect the details until we’ve designed an experience that really works. We’re giddy about tactile hover states, snappy transitions and perfectly crafted typography. When we’ve really nailed the details, they may go unnoticed by some users but they define the overall experience. Craft ensures content is legible, hierarchy is clear and next steps are unmistakable. Craft separates an elegant experience from a clumsy one and gives our users a fighting chance.

5. It ain’t enough to make ‘em smile kid

Taking extra time to focus on the details within an application can lead to sweet little interactions. They can make users smile and that’s great. But is it enough? We believe simplicity is at the core of effective design. Our focus is on crafting an experience that helps users achieve their goals. We don’t clutter experiences with clever little interactions unnecessarily. We craft the right micro-interactions where they can help the user understand their situation and take action. If the purpose of an experience is to make users smile and the details achieve it, that’s great. But, if that’s not the main goal, the details need to work harder than just making the user feel all warm and fuzzy. It’s an important distinction.

Magic wasn’t built in a day

Laboring over micro-interactions or error states can seem trivial when you’re designing a complex product. It’s hard to focus on the little details when there are bigger problems to solve. But the little details add up. Cumulatively, they make your product dynamic, easier to use and more effective.

There are details users can’t see, like how well we’re looking after their credit card details or how much care we’re taking with their order. When users see we’re paying attention to the details they can see, they’re more likely to understand we’ve paid attention to the details they can’t. The details provide us an opportunity to show users we’re smart and we care.

Magic is a deeper connection with the user and that magic can be found in the details.