In pursuit of perfection

Everyone knows that clients are an evil bunch, and frankly we'd be better off without them. You create a piece of work that answers the brief, looks amazing and is bound to win prizes by the bucketful, but in the presentation the client looks bored and unimpressed. You seethe silently while they blithely suggest changing the colour, the font and perhaps even the approach.

But are clients our fiercest critics? According to the pencil pushers (and I mean that in a good way) at D&AD, you are your own worst enemy. In a press release for the new D&AD Global Awards 2006 they disclosed that a survey of this year's awards jury revealed that just over 73 per cent of the judges have never been completely happy with a piece of their own work - never mind someone else's.

The D&AD doesn't just ask random people to be part of the jury, it selects the cream from the world's creative industry - people like Andrew Rae, who's judging in the Illustration category, and Stefan Sagmeister and Carlos Segura, who will stroke their chins in the Graphic Design category. If they can't produce a piece of design that they're happy with, what chance do you have?

Perhaps the criterion for being selected as a D&AD judge is a kind of self-deprecating perfectionism of the sort that only exists in the rarefied upper echelons of the creative industry. Their experiences are probably the polar opposites of our meetings with clients. Following a presentation, their clients probably burst into a spontaneous standing ovation, produce flowers and chocolates from the under the table and slap the art director on the back, while he dismisses their excitement with a weary wave of the hand.

Room for improvement?
A far-fetched alternative is that the judges are talentless morons who produce designs using crayons and rounded plastic scissors and don't like their own work because they keep colouring over the edges. While this scenario appeals to me, it's not very likely, is it?

There's a third possibility, and it's a solution from which we can all draw inspiration. In all likelihood, the D&AD jury members who claim never to have been completely happy with their work are simply pushing themselves to be even better. No matter how good the final piece of work is, there's always an element or aspect that could be improved upon. Recognising this - and acting upon it - is probably what has made them the best designers in the world.

Self-criticism is difficult, and is perhaps one of the hardest, and least understood, aspects of design. It's all too easy to look at your latest and greatest work through rose-tinted glasses, convinced that it's the bee's knees. The trick is to put that smugness to one side and look at your work with fresh eyes. Is that leading tight enough? Is that the right font for the job? Could the colours be tweaked? If you're asking the right questions, then chances are you're pre-empting the kind of annoying queries that clients are fond of.

But while everyone's getting worked up about the 73 per cent of judges who have yet to produce a piece of work they're completely happy with, I'm concerned the figure isn't higher. Just over a quarter of the judges seem to think they've reached a personal nirvana in their work, and that's much more disturbing.

Jason Arber is a designer and co-founder of Email him at

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