Small thingsApril 30, 2006
One of the biggest challenges of web development is balancing the big things and the small things. My goal is to get the main thing right while still being obsessive about the details. This is not necessarily the best or easiest approach as you can slowly lose sight of the big picture while you're trying to decide what the best font is for the footer.
The big thing? A secure website that is functional, responsive, and largely trouble-free. The small thing? Every phone number on the site is displayed in the same format.
Where it gets interesting is when people have conflicting views of what's big and what's small. Without proper redundancy and backups, it doesn't matter how good your front page graphic looks. On the other hand, if your content has typos, poor wording, or incorrect information, the site has failed as its most basic purpose - effectively communicating information.
Honestly, it's a constant battle. I'm a details guy and I will revisit something multiple times until it's right. I think it's worth the time and effort because the minor touches are so often what user's notice and appreciate. The web has progressed to the point where people take the big things for granted: of course my checkout will be secure, and the site will be up, and the search results will be accurate, and my contact form will be received. This doesn't mean that we can take these things for granted. In fact, they must always be the core of what we do, but I see the little things as simple ways to show users that they matter and deserve to be treated well.
An obvious example is Apple, a company that seems equally obsessed with the big things and the small things. My favorite small thing right now is found in Google's Gmail. If you find an email message that you sent and want to follow-up with the person, click reply. In every other email program I've used, the reply will be addressed to yourself. After all, reply means "reply to the sender" and you sent the message.
In Gmail, though, when you hit reply to a message you sent, it fills in the original address you sent it to. Absolutely brilliant! Why would you want to reply to yourself? I use this all the time and without fail I smile and say a small thank you to the kind developer who took the time to get it right.
On a larger scale, allow me to sing the praises of my current favorite web company, Campaign Monitor. If you manage a lot of email lists, this is the company to use. Seriously, no one else comes close.
It's specifically designed for web developers who can pass on the costs of each newsletter to the client, but it can work wonders in a more typical company as well. The software is the perfect example of getting the big things (quickly and easily sending thousands of emails) and the little things (simple instructions, friendly verbiage, and clear steps) right. As if that wasn't enough, they have great customer service and a well done, well documented API. I've had the chance to correspond with David Greiner, the head of Campaign Monitor, and found him to be straight forward and helpful, even when he wasn't telling me what I wanted to hear! Of course, they have an excellent blog as well.
If you send a lot of emails, give Campaign Monitor a try.
What's your favorite example of a company or website that gets the big things and the small things right?