Design is “about the details,” just don’t ignore the bigger picture

Ever wondered why your designs just don’t look right?

I’ve been told time and time again that design is in the details.

Details are a huge part of what makes a design go from good to great and from great to excellent. We love to be meticulous about the smallest details of our designs. But after spending all of that time going over everything, it feels “off”…

Ever wondered why your designs just don’t look right?

We use professional mockups, we put together client presentations, we work on the brand guides and scrub out every detail of our projects. So why is it that when we look at what we just did it doesn’t quite look right?

The answer more than likely lies in the fun little effect of Semantic Satiation.
Though commonly used to describe the effect in regards to words, semantic satiation (or saturation) is a phenomenon that occurs when a certain sound, visual element, or word are observed repeatedly until it sort of just loses it’s meaning, often becoming gibberish to the person experiencing it.

In regards to visuals, this happens when you’re working on your designs over and over each hour — each day.

We start to see the same mockups over and over again, we start to see the same header and image styles over and over again. We start to wonder why this design looks so… bad.

Truth is, it’s not the design that’s bad (well most of the time), it’s the fact that you’ve been staring at this one piece of the design over and over again.

Focus on the end goal

If you’re not focused on the end goal, you’re becoming more and more of a pusher

of pixels.

Sometimes, we focus so hard on the little things that we forget the big picture. It’s the ability to maintain an achieve the goals of a business that make you the most money as a designer. There’s a difference between those who take direction and those who take initiativeand that will always create a disparity between those who make a living and those who make a life as a designer.

Your project has goals, and there’s an opportunity to understand and champion for results driven by creative design. Though we’ll be going over this a lot with the Compass of Design community members, I’m going to be putting a lot of effort in teaching you all how to create and capture value for the businesses your projects serve.

If you ever feel like you’re not getting anywhere with what you’re working on design-wise, take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Is what you have actually good enough to satisfy the goals of the project? Is working on this little design element going to get your project to smash that goal, or is it holding you back from finishing the project?

Spend time on the details

Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t spend any time on designing the details. I am a logo designer so a lot of my work is adjusting and readjusting the same design elements over and over again.

My recent project with the team at KeySpark required a logo design that worked at tiny sizes and at large scales too.

I spent a lot of time working both with optical adjustments (where I focus on making something feel okay visually regardless of grids) and then I do actual measurements and line things up mechanically too. (don’t know if that’s the right use of mechanically but it works for now :P)

I want to make sure that when someone sees what I’ve done that it feels right to both analytical brains and creative brains alike.

These kind of dualities can be hard to achieve but remember to step back and look at the goals.

Sometimes diving into the details will help sell your work as a guaranteed solution.

Design in the Micro but review it in the Macro

So after focusing on both goals and details, we need to view the design as a single piece.

To avoid semantic satiation we need to view the whole piece one more time.
There are a few methods here you can use to view something in “Macro”

  1. Zoom out so it fits the whole monitor screen

This just helps you see the design as a whole one more time. I had found a bunch of errors once where I moved all the top anchor points of a logo so that the design looked like it was slanting, I wouldn’t have caught that until I had zoomed back out.

2. Print it out on printer paper and stick it on the wall

Having your whole designed piece printed out and placed on the wall will help you see the whole picture again as you’re working on small pieces through the project. Hopefully there’s enough budget in your business to support printing papers over and over again (probably not ideal if you don’t recycle) but maybe if you have enough screen space (or extra monitors) you can use that second monitor to sit to the side of what you’re working on.

3. Step back from your sketchbook or monitor to evaluate the piece

One thing to remember is that your end result of the project won’t always be seen the same way you designed it. All zoomed in.

You might end up with someone seeing this on a small phone screen held about 2–3 feet away from their face, or driven past it on the street or freeway. Just try to make sure that the way someone will see your design matches how you designed it and the goals you’re working towards.

Evaluate with friends & come back to it with fresh eyes

Unless you’ve had years of practice, reviewing your own work can be mighty difficult. A lot of veteran creators (especially logo designers) take days of pondering the design after getting a solid concept and may spend time working on other things before they come back to the concept

This approach helps them come back with fresh eyes on the project where the minute details are refreshed from the mind and they can look at the whole thing and pick it apart again.

Where that approach can take years for it to be super productive, you have another asset to help. Feedback.

Getting quality feedback is something that we’ve built the Compass of Design community around, allowing us to leverage the skills and eyesight of other designers who aren’t close to the project.

This is effectively helpful because having someone review the work is much like having come back to your designs with fresh eyes, but instead it can happen much faster than days of pondering.

Great feedback can be a difficult thing to find, especially if you’re looking for quality feedback. So please vet the options you have to go to for help before relying on their feedback to get better.

Ideally you want to get to the point where you become your best critic and work in a way that allows you to edit and iterate very effectively.


I hope these tips here can help you when evaluating why your design doesn’t quite feel the way it should.

Semantic satiation is something that comes with creative fatigue so remember that if things aren’t moving forward to either take a break or to try some of the tips here.

If after all of this, you still feel like you’re designs just aren’t where they should be, read this article I wrote on closing the gaps in your skills.


How do you know what skills you should focus on?

If this is a question you need an answer to, come join other like-minded designers who are also working at becoming masters of their craft.

Every week we go over ways to market yourself better by improving your design skills, your personal brand, and other topics to further develop as a great designer.

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Darian Rosebrook

Brand Identity Designer for @itssomagnetic, running a design community at @compassofdesign. I write to help others grow their skills as designers.

Compass of Design

Some of the best design articles written by members of the Compass of Design Community to help you strengthen your skills in design, business/freelance, and marketing yourself.

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