Details Separate the Men from the Boys

Have you ever started a book, found it uninteresting, and stopped reading as quickly as you began? Me too.

Have you ever picked up that same book again in a different context – maybe as a newer edition at the bookstore or reformatted for your Kindle – and found it completely fascinating and compelling? Me too.

David Lance Goines, an American artist, calligrapher, typographer, printing entrepreneur, and author, once wrote an essay on this very topic, speculating as to why this book would suddenly become interesting. Has the book itself matured in some complex cultural way?

Of course not. It’s the same book. But what changed? Goines presents the following possibility:

Typography, leading, selection of typeface, quality and color of paper, presswork, ratio of text to page, gutters and margins, the binding. All those unconscious things actually constitute the book you hold in your hand. You think it’s the author who’s not getting through; or that you’re too dull to grasp the concepts; or the story makes its halting way across the page; flags, and gasping gives up the ghost before page fifty.

But it is also possible, even likely, that the typeface is wrong, or too big or too small; the lines are too close together; the paper is too white and shiny and glares in your eyes; your thumb covers the bottom lines of text; the text runs into the gutter, and the whole concatenation actively resists being read, frustrating the author’s desire to speak and the reader’s desire to listen.

What Goines suggests here applies to much more than book publishing. He suggests that it’s possible to lose our audience in a number of subconscious ways. Basically, the details can make or break you. Those details separate you from your competition. That’s why they’re so important.

Last week I read a story by Martin Lindstrom on how “Whole Foods Primes Us to Shop.” It starts like this:

Derren Brown, a British illusionist famous for his mind-reading act, set out to prove just how susceptible we are to the many thousands of signals we’re exposed to each day. He approached two creatives from the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi for the “test.” On their journey to his office, Brown arranged for carefully placed clues to appear surreptitiously on posters and balloons, in shop windows, and on t-shirts worn by passing pedestrians.

Upon their arrival, the two creatives were given 20 minutes to come up with a campaign for a fictional taxidermy store. Derren Brown also left them a sealed envelope that was only to be opened once they’d presented their campaign. Twenty minutes later, they presented and then opened the envelope. Lo and behold, Derren Brown’s plans for the taxidermy store were remarkably similar to the ad campaign, with an astounding 95% overlap.

Ultimately, your customers, audience, target market, etc. are more than susceptible to the power of suggestion, so every detail matters. Your audience can be impacted by things they can’t even pinpoint, meaning you can’t rely on them to tell you why a product isn’t being purchased, a website isn’t being visited, or a blog isn’t being read.

It’s up to you to consider every possible element and improve it to be the best it can be. Just because it’s a detail no one will notice, doesn’t mean no one will.

(Photo credit)

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