There is a, now infamous, story of a famous rock band who demanded several bowls of M&Ms with all the brown ones removed and refused to perform if they found even one brown M&M.
The story is true.
The rock band was Van Halen whose shows relied on extensive power requirements, intricate stage constructions and large amounts of pyrotechnics. The brown M&Ms deal was listed in the technical section of their contract as a way of checking that all the other requirements had been read and adhered to – If someone hadn’t removed ALL the brown M&Ms then what else might they have failed to set up correctly?
Users perform checks like this too – only they don’t realise it. As they scan a web page or interface they will take in hundreds of little details that will help them decide instinctively whether to trust that page, product or system. They are constantly assessing and reassessing the amount of trust they have.
The details are myriad and can be anything from images that don’t correctly complement the content, to grammatical mistakes in the copy, to erroneous search results, to badly worded link text, to badly named navigation items, ambiguous icons, badly labelled buttons… the list is as long as the number of mistakes it is possible to make – endless!
The more of these small details that jarr with the user the less likely they are to recommend, return or even use the page. The mental process is similar to the brown M&Ms – “If this isn’t right then what else might be broken?” – this evaluation takes place subconsciously… in a matter of milliseconds! You have a few milliseconds to prove to your users that there are no brown M&Ms in the bowl.
The small details might sometimes seem irrelevant but will always impact the way the end user feels about the product. We need to make sure we consistently get these small details right to keep the user interested for long enough that they can form a conscious decision about the product and, if we’ve also got the big details right, that decision will be in our favour.