“Paint the back of the fence”

This quote is widely attributed to the late Steve Jobs’ father and was often used by Jobs to describe the care Apple devotes to all aspects of the design of its products. Some variation of “paint the back of the fence” has been spoken by many, including my grandfather to me when he talked about building furniture. Though in that context it was probably something like “finish the underside of the drawers.”

As communications strategists and designers, we need to pay attention to the back of the fence, the underside of the drawers and many other things and places people don’t normally look. It’s not just in case someone happens to sneak a peek, either.

Recently I washed our car. By hand, in the driveway, with a bucket and sponge. For some folks this is not an unusual act. For many others, however, the car wash might be the normal mode of cleaning – drive in, close the windows, put the car in neutral and sit back. Washing the car by hand made me realize how much I was missing. There were scratches and dents and dings I had never seen, as well as a loose hunk of plastic under the front bumper that I probably would never have noticed until it fell off.

Paying attention to seemingly insignificant details in the world can reward us with not only potentially important information, but help us better understand things we sometimes take for granted or perhaps don’t even see at all.