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How To Become A Perfectionist

As any designer knows, perfectionism is a key ingredient of a great product or work of art.

There are tons of ways we can become perfectionists. One of the most obvious is to focus on our mistakes as proof that we can learn from them and overcome them. If we do that, we can have an incredible sense of self-esteem; if it isn’t working, we know we can always improve. If our mistakes happen more than once to one person, then our sense of self-worth could quickly decrease — and the result would be more opportunities to become perfectionists. A perfect world, by the way, does not exist, as a person who becomes overly focused on his mistakes would eventually be forced into a never-ending series of them. Perfectionistic thinking is much less destructive; it can actually make us feel better, because if people see us being so invested in our work, then they would be more willing to invest in us (for example, by helping us in our work). There are much better ways to cultivate and maintain success.

The second way that perfectionism is a key component of being a great designer is in our work. What, exactly, needs being perfect about our work? A designer is constantly working on designing new products and services with the users in mind. So we constantly strive to make our products and services better or more intuitive than before, or make them better at handling current tasks. This also extends to our work environment, since we constantly spend a lot of time making it better. 

So, when our users find mistakes (and often they do), those mistakes will usually be in the work itself. For example, if you’re a product designer, then you’ve probably read articles in the past about how to do this by fixing common problems. There are tons of great articles here on Smashing Magazine , but we’ll keep reading.

The problem I have with this, however, is that it never really goes beyond “fixing problems”. What we are basically saying is that in order to become great, we must constantly be improving our work — not our work environment! Sure, we’re going to be working on improving our work, but the only way to be a great product or service designer is to not have to work on your work in the beginning of the development process. When you first start working on your product or service, you don’t have the opportunity to improve your work environment. There is no time to fix a mistake, because people are not yet using it. We will fix that in your work environment later. As a result, you are still working on the same things you had previously done before the new customers start using your product or service.

What if we take it one step further? What if instead of fixing our mistakes, we are looking towards creating new and better things with the product/service? This is actually one of the best things you can do for yourself — I mean, really, really — if you have the right mindset. A great product is always about what people can do, and not about how it works. So instead of changing what your product or service does, you should be looking at how it can be improved. In other words, you should be putting your head down and working, and not worrying about the bugs or the lack of features. What’s that you say? You’re too busy trying to make a new product and service that is perfect? Great! What’s the problem with that? To be perfect is a bit much, I have thought (for some time, not saying I was wrong).

Now, it’s true that perfectionism can have a negative side. In some cases, people may become overconfident and end up creating too much value too quickly. If we look at it from an organization point of view, the end result can be a situation where new workers are stuck with old work (see #2 on this list ). On the other hand, if you put time into fixing mistakes, you might find that it really inspires you when you hear feedback from other people and people’s feedback.