This is the first in a series of short essays I wrote as part of the Ship 30 for 30 program. You can read all thirty essays here.
I worked as a graphic designer for over a decade, and I was obsessed with design. If I wasn’t designing, I was studying someone else’s work or reading or talking about design.
During that time, one thing became clear; it’s the little things that make the difference. “Form follows function” is a well know design maxim. Before you can consider styling, a design must first serve its intended purpose. A poster that looks good but fails to communicate the key message is poorly designed.
What separates the great designers from the good is their attention to detail. A good designer’s poster will do the job, but some elements will be off. A great designer will create something that marries exceptional form and function. Their poster text won’t just look good, but the type size, placement, line spacing, kerning, and colour palette will all be just so.
But none of these elegant touches matter if the big things—clarity of message, layout, visual hierarchy— aren’t taken care of first.
Closer to home, I cleaned my kitchen windowsill this weekend. The plant pots had started to spill soil crumbs across the tiles, and the cactus in the ornamental vase needed some TLC. It only took a couple of minutes, but it made a huge difference. Walking into the room, it felt like a noticeably nicer environment.
But such minor adjustments only had an impact because the rest of the kitchen was already clean and organised. If the floor was grubby and washing up was waiting by the sink, titivating the windowsill would have had no effect.
So, always start with the fundamentals. Then, to go from good to great, hone in on the details. It’s the little things that make the difference. But only if you take care of the big things first.