Do perfectionists make good web designers?

Focus, passion and meticulousness are admirable creative traits, but do we need to recognise when to stop?

The myth of the perfectionist – driven, relentless, unwavering – pervades the creative world. And these qualities are certainly necessary. Nobody should ever turn in work what's half done and unpolished.

Perfections can however be disruptive, hard to manage and draining.

We ask seven top creatives from around the web whether they think perfectionism is a damaging or desirable trait. Here are their differing opinions...

Beautiful yet sometimes ugly

Cassie McDaniel

Cassie McDaniel, UX lead for Mozilla Webmaker says: "While perfectionism often results in something beautiful, there is usually an ugly process to go through first.

"Of course it can mean being enviably disciplined, methodical, focused, practiced and polished. But it can also be selfish and paralysing, resulting in not wanting to show anyone anything, or to attempt anything new, because the first effort is never good enough.

"Valuing little details over the wider picture. Prioritising your own perspective over another's. Nitpicking. Judging. Being overly critical or aggressive. More important than perfectionism is the ability to recognise when to chase an ideal and when to let it go."

Spanning a spectrum

Trent Walton

Trent Walton, Founder of Paravel comments: "Because perfectionism comes in a spectrum, I’d say that it depends. On one hand, it can drive a high standard and prove to be rewarding when that standard is met.

"On the other, it can take a maladaptive form when obsession kicks in and goals aren’t met."

Pick your fights

Geri Coady

Geri Coady, freelance designer and illustrator says: "Absolutely, but only if the perfectionist behaviour doesn't negatively impact the project or relationship with others involved.

"Extreme perfectionism and stubbornness can make us just as difficult to work with as the clients we 'love to hate'. We need to know when to pick fights and when to compromise – I'd be more willing to bump up the logo size for a client than settle for low-contrast text or a massive page weight.

"Unless you're working on a personal project, you need to know when to give a little. And remember, if the perfection you strive for isn't essential for launch, you can always revise later."

Controlling the need

Dylan Wilbanks

Design Lead at EnergySavvy Dylan Wilbanks comments: "I've never met a great designer who wasn't a perfectionist.

"They sweated tiny details, worried about pixel perfection and could cite a dozen mistakes they'd made in even the most successful design.

"But what set them apart was controlling their need for perfection in order to ship their work. Learning when to say, 'It's good enough' and telling your inner perfectionist to live with it; that's a hard skill to master. And it's essential if you want to succeed."

Delight isn't the same as perfection

Rachel Nabors

Owner and storycoder at Tin Magpie Rachel Nabors says: "Don't confuse perfection with delight. There are a great many 'perfect' designs that fail to delight or engage.

"What do people say when they use something you've designed? 'This is fun! This is cool! This is beautiful! This is clear!' Rarely 'This is perfect!'

"Perfection is your own measuring stick, not your audience's, and you can lose big by getting bogged down in the details. Focus on the entire animal and save your perfectionist energy for getting one or two mission-critical or delightful things 'just right'."

Make time to make it perfect

Bill Brock

Bill Brock, Co-founder and CEO at AnalogFolk comments: "Put simply - yes. In the fast-paced world of technological innovation it's far too easy to fall victim to the drive to be first-to-market and sacrifice being best-to-market.

"To achieve the latter, a perfectionist personality is imperative. That said, enabling perfectionist standards requires impeccable project planning, ensuring schedules include time to achieve that quality. At AnalogFolk we include a 'touch phase' in our timelines dedicated to this refinement."

Be aware of the dark side

Cyril Louis

Creative director at Razorfish, Cyril Louis says: "As a designer or developer perfectionism is a strength as well a flaw. Either way, one thing is for sure: we care more than most people. The dark side is that you may exhaust yourself trying to reach the impossible.

"Perfectionists also tend to lack team spirit – and to craft something truly great, you need a team. Yet conversely, we set high standards capable of elevating entire projects. Perfectionists can inspire others to do better."

This article was first published in issue 258 of net magazine.

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