Overcoming design perfectionism

Overcoming design perfectionism

Ashley Gainer's Layout avatar

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.
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.


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.

How has design perfectionism played out in your work? Tell us in the comments, and let us know if you’ve found any other strategies to help overcome perfectionist tendencies.

Comments ( 4 )

  1. Michael

    August 10, 2016

    This is shit. My best work is the one where I got frustrated and angry and depressed. You can't achieve nothing great if you don't get a bit psycho

  2. Suzi

    September 22, 2015

    I so needed to read this tonight. I suffer from all of the above and love the advice and am going to try to change my focus as I have been putting a few projects off as we speak and deadlines are looming. Great article! :)

  3. Jason

    April 14, 2015

    This is totally me, never satisfied with my site... you just have to ask yourself if what you're doing is critical or not to the business.

  4. Roger

    April 10, 2015

    Great article. I know this game well. My mantra of late has been, "Done is sometimes better than perfect."

Join the discussion