All my years building software has taught me that every project is divided into two parts: a) what the system looks and feels like, and b) all the sticky details.

The latest home project we tackled at the Powell household was to create a new room for my 4 year old son Joey. The plan was to redo the guest bedroom and make it a new room for Joey. My 2 year old son Andy could then move out of the nursery into Joey's old room.

Our first step was to "discuss" the paint colors. My wife and I both agreed we should do stripes. I wanted stripes that looked like the racing stripes on a 1967 Mustang Shelby GT500. My wife wanted something that came out of a decorating magazine. Predictably, the decorators won.

The next thing we did was look for furniture. We looked around a bunch of places, but we didn't find anything that we liked as much as Joey's existing furniture. So we decided to just buy another set of what we already had.

After all the big decisions were made, we started tackling the details: exactly which furniture pieces to buy, how to arrange the furniture, where his computer was going to go, where to put all of his stuff, etc.

If you look back at how we made our decisions, we focused on looks (paint, colors, furniture style, etc) first, and left all of the details (arranging, organizing, etc) for the end. It's not that the details weren't important—they were. They just weren't as important as the way we wanted the room to look.

If you think about it, many of the big decisions we make are driven by the "looks first, details later" attitude. I bet the last time you made a major purchase like a car or house, looks were a big part of the decision.

I even use the same attitude every day running my company. I was reviewing resumes the other day, and the resumes that were nice and clean looking automatically floated to the top of the pile. The resumes that were hard to read or disorganized went to the bottom of the pile, no matter what they contained. For me, looks are more important than details when making a first pass at resumes.

The same attitude applies to how you should handle technology in your business. All my years building software has taught me that every project is divided into two parts: a) what the system looks and feels like, and b) all the sticky details.

When you put together a new system for your business, you want to focus on what the system looks and feels like to the people who use it. Just like in the case of my son's new room, it's not that the details are not important—they are. It's just that the look and feel is more important, and for software specifically there are two key reasons why:

  • Looks help you figure out what you really need - Imagine you need a new system for customers to update their address on your website. If you concentrate on looks, you will come up with particulars like: information you ask for, what your customer's experience it is, how to make it easy to use, etc. If you concentrate on the sticky details, you will come up with details like: where the information is stored, what systems need to be updated, etc. What do you think is more important: what your customers think or where you store your data?
  • Nobody likes ugly hard to use software - No matter what wiz bang features a system has, it will be universally disliked if it doesn't look and feel good to the user.

Bottom Line: When you create new systems for your business, focus on looks first, and leave the details for later.

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