For most people, the adage "don't sweat the small stuff" is actually pretty good advice. If you stub your toe, spill your drink, or get cut off on the freeway, why should you let it ruin your day?
Most business leaders benefit from focusing on big wins over small details. "Follow the 80/20 rule!" "Fail fast!" "Hit a grand slam and no one remembers your strike outs!"
But for designers and designed-focused companies, it's the opposite. Meticulous attention to detail is expected. Obsessive compulsive, if-one-pixel-is-out-of-place-I'm-freaking-out, dogged commitment to perfection separates the truly exceptional designers from the rest.
Most people think Steve Jobs was crazy for having emotional breakdowns when the internal components of the iPhone didn't meet his aesthetic standards--after all, 99.99 percent of consumers never see the inside of their phone. But that doesn't matter to world class designers. Their mantra is: "'Good enough' never is."
"Don't sweat the small stuff" is fine advice for keeping you blood pressure low, but horrible if you're hell bent on designing something revolutionary. Every minute detail contributes to the overall user experience. Even those that go unseen. Every aspect must be considered because one's willingness to compromise on the small stuff will inevitably infect other features.
It's Okay to Say,"This Isn't Good Enough."
I learned this from two industrial designers who have unyielding integrity when it comes to creating phenomenal products.
Joe Tan and Markus Diebel met at Art Center College of Design. While both working at IDEO, Joe had a theory that people might want cases for their mobile phones. So he co-founded Incase and ultimately convinced Markus to join as the V.P. of Design. Last year, they left to establish their own design studio: moreless. Aptly named for their clean, minimalist, modern design.
From the very first moment we met, I could tell these guys obsess over every detail. My company, Soma partnered with Joe and Markus to design a smart, beautiful, sustainable water filter. Joe and Markus produced nearly 20 great designs, but refused to accept any of them until they had delivered "the one." When they revealed it to our team, everyone cheered.
My favorite memory is from the night we snuck our prototype into appliance stores to make sure it fit in every refrigerator and sink we could find. We made everyone we knew hold the carafe and describe how it felt in their hands. We refined hinges on the inside of the lid that almost no one would notice to make sure they matched the contours of counterweight covers, which surely almost no one would notice. We did it anyway, because it mattered to us.
In retrospect, there were many points at which we could have stopped and said, "This is good enough. No one is ever going to notice these changes." There were plenty of opportunities to cut costs, have fewer debates, and bring the product to market even faster.
I'm happy we resisted the temptation to settle for 99 percent when we knew 100 percent was possible. The result has been a product people love and an important life lesson: sometimes it's crucial to sweat the small stuff.
So the next time someone tries to comfort you with that oft quoted adage, think of Steve Jobs, Mickey Drexler, Joe Tan and Markus Diebel, and let them know you're up to something that's well worth a little sweat.
Mike is the co-founder and CEO of Soma, which makes innovative water filters and beautiful glass carafes to provide healthy and delicious drinking water. Previously, Mike led marketing at BranchOut, the largest professional network on Facebook. He also serves on the boards of the Global Center for Social Entrepreneurship and Mobilize.org. He is a prolific speaker and advises social entrepreneurs.