Before we get started, let's make sure we understand the difference between perfection and quality. I'm not sure who first made this distinction, but I have found it to be true in a number of realities. The difference is this: A commitment to quality wants it done right the first time. Perfectionism wants it done my way every time. Though it may seem counterintuitive, perfectionism can be detrimental to good design. There are lots of reasons, but I want to focus on one right now: Perfection is stagnate.
Perfection doesn't work because it's ...
- Impossible: You will never achieve something that is truly perfect. There is always something that can be better.
- Costly: Even if you could achieve perfection it would take too long and cost too much to be worth it.
- Subjective: Because so much of design comes down to preference, perfection is in the eye of the beholder. (This is rarely to the benefit of the beholder.)
- Stagnate: If you created the absolutely perfect design you could change absolutely nothing without ruining the whole thing.
Perfection is not good design.
I know a designer who is a perfectionist. He falls in each of the areas listed above. He takes forever on a project because it's never quite right. He is excessively expensive because he spends so much time on each project. He is blind to functionality and aims only aesthetics that please him. None of this is to say that he's a bad designer. He's great, but he simply cannot escape the perfectionist pitfalls.
The thing that bothers me about his work is that it is so stagnate! I am at times called in to fix, cleanup or update his work. (He has very few returning clients.) As a designer who can see the teleology behind a work, I perceive that his works are made to be unchanging. The attention to detail that he pays really is astounding. There are many visible aspects of his work that certainly seem perfect. Everything is just the right size and is exactly proportional to the rest of the work. The colors precisely coordinate and compliment each other. The layout is specifically designed to snugly house the copy. Everything is "perfect;" nothing needs to be changed.
Therein lies the problem. Nothing needs to be changed because if you change anything about it, the work would become less than perfect. It will literally be worse than it was before because you altared this perfectly balanced piece. But, things change and need to change and should be able to change. A good design should be like a Jenga tower rather than a house of cards. You should be able to remove, add or displace and element without the whole thing crashing down. Sure if you remove too much, it would be best to just start over, but good design is dynamic. Perfection is by definition stagnate and therefore not good design.
If you are tempted toward everything being perfect, here are 3 safeguards against perfectionism.