Why design perfectionism is bogus

Struggle with perfectionism?

Every designer has. I’ve been there.

Staring at a screen filled with un-finished personal design projects that I should have posted weeks or even months earlier. “I’ll get it perfect the next time I pull open the file… a few more tweaks, a few more hours and it will be perfect.”

Except there’s a big problem with that premise…

Perfect design doesn’t actually exist.

…Not from a mere human at least. There’s always room for improvement in our designs. Chasing perfect is like chasing the horizon. It’s an imaginary place somewhere ahead that exists just out of reach. Chase perfect, and you’ll find yourself constantly chasing the horizon but never actually reaching it. When you’re chasing the mythical “perfect” design, you’re actually giving yourself an excuse to not finish your passion project.

Although perfectionism can surface with any design project, I’ve found that it is most prevalent when we’re designing for ourselves. We’re often our own toughest clients.

When we wear perfectionism as a badge of honor we are, more often than not, advancing past the healthy line of quality design to a counterproductive state. We easily develop the habit of spinning our wheels and avoiding calling a project done… all in the noble pursuit of elusive perfection.

I’m not saying to skip details and get sloppy with the work. Doing good design work is essential to your design career. The details do matter. Handle them. But don’t let the false badge of perfectionism prevent you from actually shipping your passion project.

The cold hard truth is that “finished today” is far better than an imaginary “future finished” that won’t actually exist because the designer won’t ever complete the work. Practicing perfectionism is effectively practicing “later” instead of “done”. It is a counterproductive habit. A design doesn’t add any value to any user or any audience until they can actually experience the design.

The founders of Basecamp share a thought on perfectionism as they discuss the topic of workaholics in their fantastic book Rework (which you should probably read): “Workaholics don’t actually accomplish more than nonworkaholics. They may claim to be perfectionists, but that just means they’re wasting time fixating on inconsequential details instead of moving on to the next task.”

When you finish a good design you can move on to the next project. Actually completing projects will develop your skills as a designer, even when your completed projects aren’t perfect. Good is better than perfect, because good actually exists. Good serves as an opportunity to learn through experience. The habit of finishing projects will ultimately develop your skills far more rapidly than a designer that doesn’t finish anything when they’re too busy theorizing about perfection. Finish enough good designs and you’ll inevitably have a few great designs done too.

I’ll let you in on a secret.

Each one of these blog posts requires me to fight against perfection. None of my blog posts have been anywhere near perfect (that part’s not a secret, LOL). It is quite possible that none of my blog posts have even reached good yet. I’m cool with that, for now at least. I’d rather share from my 17 years of professional design experience than hold off for another 10 or more years while I chase “perfect” writing skills. I’d rather learn from mistakes and develop as a writer. I’d rather help people now than wait for writing mastery before I allow myself to share my voice with the world. I’d rather be churning out piles of finished work and learning from my mistakes than sitting around theorizing about perfection or that “some day” I’d start a blog.

Enough about me. What about you?

What personal design project are you afraid to call “done”? What design is sitting on your desktop that you’re afraid to post to Dribbble until it is “perfect”? What have you procrastinated on uploading to your portfolio because it isn’t quite ready yet? Which unfinished design projects should you export and upload to Behance today?

Time to ship it.

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