“Trifles make perfection, but perfection is no trifle.” – Michelangelo
Given the right (or wrong) conditions both Eugene Chen and I, the co-founders of Firenest, are perfectionists. This is something we weren’t aware of until we were well into working together, and it had both good and bad effects. This combined with equal doses of stubbornness led to long and intense discussions on the smallest points of design or user experience. We could waste an entire afternoon debating the position of a link. The most disappointing part of this was the realization that our obsession with details in itself wasn’t the problem, but that we focused it in the wrong places.
The presenters at MicroConf amazed me with the attention they gave to what I had viewed as small parts of the business. The obsessiveness to optimization was incredible, and rivaled the parallel obsession we paid to our site. The difference was that our obsessiveness was directed at arbitrary judgements of “niceness” or “intuitiveness” that usually devolved into fishing sessions on google for justification, whereas theirs was directed at measurable criteria related to the performance of their business model. What seems incredible to me now is that we never stepped back and analyzed the question of what the purpose of the elements we were designing were.
We went through ~5 complete redesigns of our landing page. Each of these iterations involved an investment of energy and time from both of us in the design and code, but much more energy was spent debating each of the details. The worst part is that after all of that I can’t tell you which one of those designs were most effective. We had spreadsheets in our business model that referred to conversion rates and ROI’s, but somehow failed to take the leap of understanding to see that these were elements we could directly impact through our designs. Better yet these were metrics we could have been analyzing and optimizing, and all using less effort than we spent trying to justify our arbitrary positions.
I’m not a full believer in the “design by A/B test” philosophy of entrepreneurship. I think that there are intuitive leaps that are necessary for a business to be successful that can’t be shown by completely analytically driven decision making. Their methodologies did, however, make me realize the importance of understanding why you’re doing each part of your business. Don’t just build a landing page because you need to have a landing page because that’s what everyone does. Think about why you’re building a landing page; what value it provides to your business. Once you can answer that question you can evaluate your decisions with some reasonable criteria. You can actually measure if something you’ve built is providing the value you expected from it.
Make sure you understand where each piece of your business fits into the big picture puzzle. If you can move from the details up to the big picture and back down again, you can make sure you’re spending your time obsessing about the right details.