It’s a common saying that perfect is the enemy of the good. This is a simple warning that perfectionism can get in the way of real productivity. Of course, a certain amount of perfectionism can be healthy, but when the drive to turn out a perfect product is unduly delayed with the quest for perfection, we become much less productive.
In the realm of web design, too much perfectionism can be a major problem. As a discipline that is both highly technical and highly creative, web design holds a lot of snags for those of us who are prone to perfectionism. Now, some experts in business and web design are weighing in on the problem of perfectionism.
The Forbes Coach Council writes, “Perfectionism can easily plague a workflow. In an effort to have the best possible product, service or feature, some team members may try to achieve perfection.” According to their article, perfectionism can lead to missed deadlines, damage collaboration efforts, hurt a person’s professional reputation, stymie innovation, and slow the decision-making process.
In web design, designers come up with a concept and try to make it a reality. Too often, the web designer falls in love with that concept and is motivated to make the real product as close a match to the concept as possible. Making the reality match the vision perfectly is rarely a realistic goal. This leads designers to get stuck trying to turn out a perfect rendering of a concept and missing hard deadlines.
Fabrico Teixeria of The Next Web, writes, “The high fidelity of today’s design tools creates the illusion that our mockups are feasible out in the real world. Designing a static board or even a Principle prototype can be relatively easy. You’re usually illustrating an ideal flow. You’re not accommodating for multiple scenarios. You’re not concerned about performance. You’re not designing for edge cases, for less tech-savvy users, for older devices.”
Talented designers are able to come up with good ideas, but it can be impossible for them to keep up with an endless string of tickets from developers demanding solutions for situations that the designer never thought of in the first place.
Most competent designers can quickly come up with remedies for secondary use cases. But the best designers take every request as a chance to make focused improvements for some very fine tuning of the final product.
Teixeria says, “When I hear people saying that they are not strong when it comes to executing, iterating, adapting, and making it work, I question how strong of a designer they actually are.”
He warns against the notion that developing a concept is easier than execution. These, he says, are two very different tasks that use different parts of the brain. But, he says, “if you’re only able to come up with high-level concepts, then you’re not delivering an actual user experience. You are delivering a dribbble shot, a portfolio mockup, a piece of art.”
Tom Kenny, of TKDesign, believes that designers can cure their design perfectionism using the 80/20 principle. He calls perfectionism an unhealthy mindset that needs to be addressed as quickly as possible. He says, “Top designers produce four times the output of other designers and do you think everything they create is great? Not a chance. The reason they create great work is because they do it without the worry of being perfect.”
His idea of how the 80/20 rule applies to web design perfectionism is essentially by lowering our standards. According to him, the standards of the average perfectionist designer are so high that lowering them by 20% can be just enough to get them to be much more productive.
“Let’s take the positive aspect of your perfectionism,” he writes. “Your 80% is actually better than most people’s 100%. This is because your ideal quality of work is so high that lowering it down to 80% is still a high level.”
If Kenny is right, the 80/20 rule could be a fantastic solution to highly quality-motivated web designers. It could open up just enough bandwidth to make it possible for ideas to make it to the client on time. He believes that the idea might even take enough pressure off of designers that the really good ones will end up at 90% of their ordinary standard, rather than 80%.
According to him, it’s about relieving the pressure to turn out a perfect product- which alone- can render a person unable to act.
He continues, “I guarantee the times when you are “in the zone” are during that first 80% of a project. The last 20% is much more difficult and the anxiety only increases as you make change after change. That increase in anxiety of perfection is also a sign that you’re at or beyond 80%.
For those of us who are real perfectionists, this might not look as much like a cure as a way to do better work. By taking the pressure off themselves, designers will find themselves getting even closer to the perfection they desire.