Perfectionism is a common trait among designers. Our profession attracts people who obsess over every single aspect of the interface or gadget. The pursuit of perfection has even achieved legendary status among design nerds with the success of products like the Apple iPhone.
The truth is perfectionism, like strong drink, needs to be applied in moderation. Both will interfere with your ability to execute, and too much of either will make you want to vomit.
The essence of the issue with typical “designery” perfectionism is perfectly expressed in the following passage:
“You and everyone you know are going to be dead soon. And in the short amount of time between here and there, you have a limited amount of fucks to give. Very few, in fact. And if you go around giving a fuck about everything and everyone without conscious thought or choice — well, then you’re going to get fucked.”
― Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life
Let me give you an example. I once worked with a UXer who was designing an obscure settings page. She originally designed the page with twirly sections, but the team soon realized several challenges:
- We did not have a table with twirly sections as a component, so it would have to be custom-built.
- The expected number of items in each section would have to scale to thousands.
- The expected number of sections would have to scale to 100 or more.
Instead of the sectional table design, the team recommended a common approach used everywhere else in a system: a flat table with a searchable filter representing the sections. Incidentally, a 5-minute competitive analysis effort showed that the major competitor was using this same flat table design.
Now a typical person would take the input and realize that the original idea no longer works:
- It requires significant additional cost to build.
- It creates a unique pattern in a confusing, obscure, rarely visited section of the system.
- It just does not scale.
But this person was not typical.
She was a designer.
So for whatever reason, she decided she really wanted to give all her fucks about this obscure settings page. Which, of course, created a host of challenges for her team. Not only did we have to spend extra time and expense to do the user research, but she demanded that we prove to her that the other idea created a “better user experience.”
In fact, whether something is a better user experience is very often not the right question to ask — it leads to poisonous perfectionism which directly impacts your ability to ship good products.
As indeed it was in this case.
The cost? 1 month delay * 2 people = 320 hours or $32,000
To solve the crisis, a high-ranking leadership team had to be called in to end the insanity and ratify the obvious solution: use the standard flat table pattern. This kind of thing is unfortunately pretty common in design today. It has become a common practice for designers to wash their hands of the cost of their giving a fuck about something in the name of “improved user experience.”
I hate to break it to you, but most things you are working on will not be the next iPhone. And by perfectionizing some rarely used settings page, you are just giving fucks about something essentially meaningless. If you want to ship products, you have to nuke this behavior in a bud by arming your designers with policies to empower them to make independent decisions about specific features.
Some effective methods to help your team apply perfectionism sparingly are focusing on a solution that is Ideal, Not Perfect, defining success metrics in an Essential Kick-off Meeting, as well as the 1-Way/2-Way Door decision matrix used by Amazon — all of which I’ll cover in detail in future installments. Sign up below to get this and other Practical DesignOps advice in your mailbox: