Form Does Count – Why Even Small Design Decisions Matter

Photo courtesy Design Sponge.

Imagine your perfectly designed apartment. In the kitchen, there would be just enough counter space and cupboard space to keep you from feeling frustrated or cramped. Not too much space, not too many appliances, not too much food in the fridge. Your serving pieces would be both beautiful and functional. And underneath all of this would be a well-considered floor plan, architecture, and planning — allowing all these little pieces to add up to a comfortable space.

The bedroom would be the same. A closet just big enough to organize a stylish wardrobe, but not so big as to promote stockpiling. Furniture and decoration would add the right mix of functionality and style, without having so much as to become oppressive. It would be both functional and beautiful.

The same concepts apply to product and software design. When we’re designing and developing a project, it can be really easy to say “let’s not worry about that detail” or “we’ll come back to that later.” Both of those scenarios are fine, as long as you either:

  1. don’t really care about the end experience, or
  2. are confident you will have the scope and budget to come back later and give the app the fit and finish it needs.

The small decisions matter.


Using the “perfect apartment” metaphor, a space certainly does not have to be all brand new and shiny clean to be perfect, but it needs to be intentional. A place isn’t finished if there are cords carelessly running along the walls, ripped upholstery is left unfixed, or say, if the cabinets had no shelves.

Likewise, with developing an application, the small errors and avoiding details will add up to a lousy experience. At home, most of us would replace a lightbulb that is burnt out or stitch a pillow that has torn. If the world of designing products, considering things like typography, form styling, and alignment can add up to an end experience that feels really really good, or really really lousy.

To reference one of my favorite articles, this attention to detail, this time to finalize and feel out the small decisions that make something finished, is referred to as Fingerspitzengefühl by German designers. This translates to “finger-tip feeling.”

Elegance and usability go hand in hand, and a mistake here and there adds up to one shitty experience. You might say, “who cares about ripped upholstery and cords showing” or “who cares about type not aligning and buttons being inconsistent, as long as it works.” But I disagree.

The products that stick around and change behaviors aren’t the cloogy ones. This attention to small details and forms, refining and iterating over and over, is why brands like Apple have become so famous and successful.

Software feels transient. It’s constantly changing. Taking the care to finish our work down to the final detail is what makes you a truly a “craftsman”, to borrow the trendy word for it. I just call it design.