several colored pencils laid out on a table. The sharpened ends are fitted together as the top line of pencils points down and the bottom line of pencils point up

Overcoming Design Perfectionism

Perfect. It’s how we want our designs to be. It’s what we want to offer our clients. Perfection is, ultimately, what we’re after with our work.

Perfectionism is something a lot of us claim, using it to assure our potential clients that we’ll deliver nothing short of perfect. “I’m a perfectionist, and I won’t stop until your design is pixel-perfect!” is a big selling point, right? In this fast-moving, highly competitive market, it feels like nothing short of perfect will do—but is perfectionism really the valiant approach to work that we make it out to be?

The Problem with Design Perfectionism

It’s certainly important to do your absolute best to create a perfect design for your clients. That said, perfectionism isn’t necessarily the badge of honor we’d like to think it is. When left unchecked, design perfectionism is crippling. You agonize, you tweak, you check every page on every device and screen size, you adjust more pixels, you check again, you get frustrated, and then… you get stuck in that never-ending cycle. Nothing is ever perfect enough.

Photo credit to Roni Rosen. A woman uses multiple different rulers and levels to straighten a frame on a wall
Photo credit to Roni Rosen.

And there you stagnate, stuck on your own monitor and in your own head instead of having your best ideas being used and evaluated. By not having that user feedback, you’re missing the opportunity to make improvements to the project that carry much more actual value than the exact placement of a sidebar or the width of a banner. Because let’s face it: it’s the tiny details of appearance that send us into perfectionist overdrive.

Problematic design perfectionism translates into lower productivity. You put off getting started (aka procrastination) because you don’t know the “right” way to begin, and then once you start, you keep getting stuck. This means you’ve got a longer development cycle and your work isn’t efficient. In extreme cases, design perfectionism can lead to missed deadlines, unfinished projects, client issues, and even the failure to deliver the at all. Others might find their perfectionism prohibits them from getting started as a designer.

There are some easily recognized signs that perfectionism has spiraled out of control. You’re probably suffering from web design perfectionism if:

  • You feel frustrated, anxious, or consumed in a negative way with your design.
  • You speak or think predominantly negative things about yourself regarding your design, e.g. “I’m just lazy” or “I can never get anything right.”
  • You feel so overwhelmed at the thought of beginning your project that you can’t seem to get started.
  • You feel tremendous resistance to contact the client for any input, clarifications, or advice.

How to Overcome Design Perfectionism

You must internalize this: a web design is never really done. It’s a dynamic page in a constantly evolving sea of trends, user preferences, updates, and needs. There’s no such thing as a perfectly finished design, down to the last pixel.

a series of small red, purple, and blue squares in a grid formation

Adjust to the concept of “good enough.” Before you scoff: good enough does NOT mean you slap up the first iteration that comes to your mind and write it off as done. Good enough means you put in the right amount of effort and energy into creating something that adheres to the guidelines and expectations you and the client set for each other in the beginning, and you deliver something that’s creative, effective, and really good.

There may be changes to make along the way and new iterations to introduce, but you know these are the right changes because they’ve already been tested. You aren’t wasting time anymore on things that, ultimately, aren’t central to what makes a web design truly great: functionality.

One thing you can do when you start feeling bogged down in perfectionism is to contact the client. Some designers don’t want to ask their clients any questions because they’d prefer to waltz in at the end with a final, perfect project.

But that’s a big risk to take, especially when you’re feeling stuck. It’s much better to check in along the way, especially when you’ve hit a wall and you know something is off but you can’t quite figure it out. It could be that you’ve hyper-focused on something the client doesn’t value and you’ve missed something much more important to them. Touching base gives you valuable feedback not only on the design, but on where your focus should be.

It’s more important to keep doing the work, to keep creating, to keep pleasing your clients, and to keep growing as a designer than it is to create something that is absolutely flawless from every angle imaginable.

Remember: flawless today is just one plugin update away from being broken tomorrow.

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