There’s no such thing as “minor design changes”

Sharing a quick story I found on Intercom’s blog about how there’s no such thing as a small change in a product.

At some point Intercom’s team decided to limit the number of characters of their reviews to 140.

“We want to limit the length of a review in the product to 140 characters, because we may want to use SMS at some stage. That’s a small change, right?”

Oh well.

Here are some of the questions, discussions and decisions that had to be made immediately after they received that brief.

  • Should we explain to users why there is a character limit when they are about to write a review?
  • What happens if the review has more than 140 characters? Do we block typing, or do we display an error message to users?
  • If we decide to show an error message, where would it go on the UI?
  • What will the error message say?
  • Who’s in our team is writing that message?
  • What will that error message look like? Do we have this style in our design system already? If not, who in our team can design it?
  • If we go with the error message, would it be controlled server-side or client-side?
  • If client-side, a few more questions: does the JavaScript display the same type of error as the server-side code? If not, what’s the new style?
  • How does this style behave without Javascript?
  • How do we ensure that any new update to the 140 character requirement affect both client-side and server-side validation?
  • Do we want to display a character count to let users know about how closer or how far they are to the limit?
  • Where is the count of letters displayed on the screen?
  • What should it look like?
  • Who’s developing this character counter?
  • Is there a pre-built solution on the web that we can leverage?
  • Who’s testing that solution on the browsers supported by our products?
  • When the counter reaches zero, do we block typing, or do we start showing negative numbers so that users know they went past the limit?
  • What happens if you paste a chunk of text in the box that is longer than 140 characters? Do we paste everything and let users edit later, or do we simply cut the text short? Or do we show a special error message in this case?
  • What happens to the reviews written before this feature, that are longer than 140 characters?
  • Is the new review system accepting special characters?

If you want to read the full story (with an even more painful list of questions), check out the original post:

It’s a fun little story, but to be honest: it happens more often than one would think. And not every designer is able to consider all the implications of a quick change like the one aforementioned.

The point here is simple.

  • Design decisions have to be thoroughly considered.
  • Designers have to understand how digital products work beyond the surface layer, and how even the tiniest design decision can create a ripple effect on many other places.
  • You have to bring other disciplines to the table when you start talking about a “minor design change” in your product. There’s a good chance “minor design changes” don’t really exist.