There’s undoubtedly something mesmerizing about perfectionists. We celebrate achievements of people like Steve Jobs, Leonardo Da Vinci, or Serena Williams and their relentless pursuit of excellence, even though we often instinctively feel that the quest for perfection seldom comes without obsession or even misery. After all, it was Leonardo da Vinci himself who said, “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have,” just a short while before his dead.
Indeed, as Andrew Lau explains in his article titled “10 Reasons Perfectionism Could Be Hurting You (& What to Do About It)”, perfectionism crushes our ideas, destroys our productivity, makes us procrastinate, makes us feel like fools over the smallest mistakes, eats up time, makes us unhappy, makes our success feel insignificant, exhausts us, makes everything feel impossible, and, above all, makes us give up way too early.
“I’d say it’s worth perfecting a design if lots of people will be using it frequently for a long period of time,” says Joel Lewenstein, Product Design Manager at Quora, and adds, “It’s important to have the ability to be a perfectionist, and the discipline to only use this ability when necessary.”
The ability Joel talks about is crucial when it comes to design work, which involves going through many details, such as color relationships, whitespace, page composition, line spacing, and others. Not many UI designers have this ability and even fewer can apply it while UXing. This article was written to help you tackle the problem of perfectionism in an approachable way, offering 5 big ways how you can avoid your old UI perfectionist pitfalls while UXing in 2017.
1. Understand What UX Perfection Really Is
The most important thing that all UX designers need to realize is that they are not the benchmark for perfection—the user is. Which is why all designs should always be thoroughly tested and iterated upon. Furthermore, this perfection really lies at the intersection of time and quality.
“In an agile design environment, you may not know all the product requirements at the start, nor be able to design a comprehensive user experience up front … Agile UX design provides an opportunity to proceed with design, recognizing that you’ll need to iterate your design as you add more functionality and content,” write Carissa Demetris, Chris Farnum, Joanna Markel and Serena H. Rosenhan on UXmatters.
When Google released the first commercial version of their Android operating system in September 2008, the company considered speed and efficiency as the only influencers of the quality of the user experience of their system. As time went on, they recognized the need to create beautiful software that is a pleasure to use. Today, Google leads the way with its Material Design.
Nowhere were the consequences of the iterative approach to user experience design so tangible as at this year’s CES, which is a global consumer electronics and consumer technology tradeshow that takes place every January in Las Vegas. One product that stole the show in two different categories at once—health and wearable—was the Willow smart breast pump. Creators of this innovative product have looked at existing breast pumps and came up with a long list of ways in which they could be improved, removing all external tubes, cords, and dangling bottles. They have then proceeded to test first versions of their product and iterated based on feedback. The result of their effort is the perfect breast pump for our time and our modern needs.
2. Focus on Meeting the Most Important Users’ Needs
The Willow smart breast pump accurately illustrates what Emma Oivio, Interaction designer at Quora, means when she says, “A ‘perfect’ UX design is the one that serves the correct needs optimally, is out on time, and is delightful to use.”
So many people who live in densely populated cities would love to live more eco-friendly lives but lack the means to do so. One could wait years and years until we develop new renewable sources of energy and learn how to manage our waste efficiently, or one could do what Whirlpool did with their Zera Food Recycler, which makes making your own fertilizer easy and efficient.
“Good UX design is all about taking a vision of what you want to achieve and then applying that as best as you can in reality … Good UX design always happens in this tug of war of conflicting demands that you just need to balance as perfectly as possible,” says Oivio. With Zera Food Recycler, it’s possible to recycle a week’s worth of food waste within 24 hours through an entirely automated process, creating better soil for plants and producing less food waste in the landfill.
Of course, there will be better solutions in the future, but given our current means, the Zera Food Recycler is as close to perfect as we can get. Again, if the solution meets users’ needs, then the most important part of user experience design has been achieved.
3. Realize Your Vision in the Best Possible Way
One of the most popular role-playing games ever made, Diablo, would probably fade into obscurity if it wasn’t for Blizzard’s ability to envision its full potential as a real-time, action-oriented title, instead of relying on turn-based gameplay. Thanks to Blizzard’s influence, the series has eventually sold over 24.8 million copies worldwide and continues to be one of the most beloved franchises to this day.
As David Brevik explains in his 2016 talk, have they not realized their vision in such an excellent way as they did, their “perfect design” would never be revealed to the public. Many app and game developers can probably relate to this. It’s easy to spend long hours working on something that just doesn’t feel right. It’s even easier to stand still and endlessly ruminate over the best possible way something could be approached.
Professional writers who write for living know quite well when something is good enough. They have their daily word goals, weekly financial goals, and yearly personal goals, and they use these goals to guide their ways. Amateurs who decide to write the next Moby-Dick often get stuck on the first page and never move past it. Instead, they stand still and constantly change their vision.
If you’re not careful, this could also happen to your UX efforts. Always have concrete goals and use them to push you forward. Standing still is a wasted time that could be better used in a more productive way.
4. Learn How to Let Go
David Foster Wallace, author of Infinite Jest, beautifully captured the pain associated with letting go when he said, “Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks on it.” UI designers often feel the pain of letting go when they are forced by their superiors or set schedules to ship deliverables no matter whether they are ready or not.
UX designers often forget that not everything that adds value today will add value tomorrow, as Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus put it in their article on letting go. Indeed, this realization is one of the most fundamental guiding principles that we need to obey at all times.
Again, your goals and milestones are what should be guiding you along the way, not your insatiable desire to achieve perfection. The more time you spend perfecting your darlings, the more it will hurt when the time comes to let go of them. Don’t dwell on this pain and, instead, see it as a clear indication that it’s really time to move on. Which brings us to our last point:
5. Learn When It’s the Right Time to Move On
All UI designers know how easy it is to fall into the trap of chasing pixel perfection. When the same designers come to UX, they can feel liberated knowing the search is over, which only makes them more susceptible to UX perfectionism. After all, why move on when perfection is just one iteration away?
The simple answer is: because it always will be. No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, perfection will always remain unattainable. The only thing that you can attain are your goals, objectives, and milestones.
Moreover, you need to develop the ability to quickly jot down a rough draft or sketch of ideas without feeling the need to make them perfect. Without a place to start, there is no start. And having something you can move on to can greatly help you spot when it’s the right time to move on.
This article isn’t a statement against perfection. Rather, it offers a better way how to look at perfection and how to use it to deliver the correct level of polish and completeness. That is, the level that meets users’ needs and removes all obstacles from their way.
It also reminds us that perfection lies in the eyes of the beholder and is greatly affected by time. Many products, solutions, services, websites, or apps that seemed perfect just a few years ago, now feel obsolete. Knowing this, you should feel liberated to call something good enough and move on to work on the next important step.