I recently read an article about how damaging perfectionism can be. It was an interesting piece and had some very valid points but I found myself getting a little annoyed at its dismissiveness.
It led me to think about the place for perfectionism in our toolkit as designers, and its relationship to the art and craft of what we do.
As a Creative Director and Designer I want to be the best at what I do. I always want to go that extra mile (or kilometre) to find the magic in a brief and wow the client. I’m not seeking perfection here, because I know there isn’t a single solution. But I know that it’s got to be the best it can be. For this I’ll need to use some of the artistic skills in my toolkit: lateral thinking, open mindedness and problem solving. These are all essential skills for a designer.
But equally as important are the craft skills in our toolkit. Craft is different. Craft is the ingenuity, the knowledge and the experience that we gain from producing work and it’s associated tasks over, and over and over again. This is where perfectionism comes in for me. It’s the desire to hone and finely tune our skills, just like the carpenter or silversmith, over hundreds of hours of work. For the next piece of work to be our best piece of work ever, and for the one after that to be even better. This is a high bar to set yourself, but it’s this refusal to accept second best that will keep you progressing in your career and allow you to slowly ‘perfect’ your craft.
This is why it is essential for me that we utilise perfectionism in this manner. When this desire wains and complacency sets in, our work can become stale, uninspiring and in time, irrelevant.
But there is a dark side to perfectionism. As a perfectionist you might often find it difficult to finish a piece of work, overthinking an idea and iterating countless times where it’s not necessary. To work like this will make you very stressed, under productive and lacking sleep…believe me, I know!
In the past I would sometimes find myself in this cycle of endless iteration, honing and tweaking. I was seeking perfection, the unattainable. So I needed something to get me out of this unproductive way of working.
One of the things I found useful was to just stop. Leaving the current project unfinished and jumping onto something else. This would give me a fresh perspective and immediately reduce my stress levels. I found that one piece of work would often inform the other. Or I’d solve a problem that had been niggling at me for the past hour. Even just giving my brain a rest helped me progress with the project or come at it from a different angle.
So in reply to the article, yes perfectionism can ruin your productivity. But it will also enable you to consistently hone your craft and be the best you can at what you do.