Calling BS on perfectionism

Paul Boag

I am fed up with web designers who are seeking mythical perfection in design. Its time to become a pragmatist.

I recently came across this superb post entitled “Why I hate working with perfectionists” written by Karl Mendes. Karl perfectly summed up a growing problem I am seeing among many website owners and web designers. It is a subject I feel so passionately about that I felt I had to throw my hat into the ring.

The problem

The problem began with certain high profile web designers who I will kindly call somewhat elitist. These web designers liked to describe themselves as perfectionists. They believe in an obsessive attention to detail and an unwillingness to compromise their desire for perfection.

Because of their reputation this idea has begun to seep into the culture of web design even going as far as some website owners.

On the surface this all sounds great. Surely we should strive for perfection in design? Isn’t it good to have an obsessive attention to detail?

The problem is that there is no such thing as perfection.

Man cutting the grass with scissors

Patrick Breig, Shutterstock

No such thing as perfection

Perfection is very much in the eye of the beholder. In my opinion it takes an incredible amount of arrogance to say my idea of perfection is somehow more valid than yours.

Of course it could be argued that a designers perception of design perfection is more valid than that of a website owners. The problem is that relentlessly seeking perfection in one field often undermines others.

For example, an obsession with detail is a huge drain on time and money. You may go someway towards reaching a mythical design perfection but at the same time you undermine any perfection in return on investment!

Equally design perfection may clash with a perfection in code. In short pure perfection is not possible even if it wasn’t so subjective.

Personally I am the opposite of a perfectionist. I am a pragmatist.

Choose pragmatism every time

The thing that angers me so much about perfectionists is the sense of superiority. Most perfectionists I know in web design are those who work on huge projects with massive budgets. They have the luxury of being able to spend months working on a user interface. The problem is they still look down on those who don’t achieve their level of ‘perfectionism’ even if they don’t have the budget.

These are the people that sneer at websites thrown together in a WYSIWG editor like Dreamweaver. Admittedly many website should not be built in this way. However for some sites this is perfectly valid. For example I have built my youth groups website in iWeb. It’s absolutely shocking. However, am I embarrassed by it? Not at all. It is the right solution for the project…

  • It had no budget.
  • I had no time to build something.
  • It’s going to be looked at by a handful of people.
  • The target audience don’t care what it looks like as long as it works.
  • It does not need to impress anyone.

Is it perfection? Absolutely not. Was it the most pragmatic solution in the situation? Absolutely.

That is the problem with perfection, it does not allow for context.

Karl summed it up for me when he quoted 37Signal’s book Rework

They claim to be perfectionists, but that just means they are wasting time fixating on inconsequential details instead of moving on to the next task.

Amen to that.