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The value of focused effort

Some people iron shirts for a living. I’ve watched videos. I noticed that they’re very careful at times. But at other times they’re not careful at all. They know which steps to pay attention to.

This is not unique to people who iron shirts for a living.

Casey Neistat, who makes films, makes it clear that his focus is the story. He doesn’t bother with special effects. He avoids interesting transitions. His titles are set in the default typeface. He focuses on the story because that’s where he finds value.

Joel Marsh has written about the pyramid of UX impact. The lower layers like user psychology will ruin a project. You have to get them right. They need your attention. The upper layers, like minor visual design details, don’t. Visual design details might take you from successful to more successful. But they don’t bring success in the first place.

Frank Chimero is known for his thoughtful approach to design. He prefers plain design with an option for little extras. Like chocolate chips in vanilla ice cream. Usually, he says, that’s enough.

Massimo Vignelli famously used few typefaces. He found some that worked well. He used those every time. It meant he could turn his attention to other things.

These are all examples of focused effort. You usually don’t have the time to focus on everything. If you try, you’ll focus on nothing.

Pick some smart defaults—inoffensive, high quality—like Vignelli. Then forget about them. Use them automatically. The decision has already been made every time you start a design.

Instead, find where the difference will be made. Where people will notice the effort. Once you find it, be thoughtful. Pay attention. Question yourself. Inspect every detail. Show it to other people. Note their reactions. Try again.