There are some business lessons that were easy for me to learn. Like, the first time I worked without a contract and got screwed on getting paid. That was a mistake I never made again. Or learning to ask for a deposit. Or including a kill fee if the project was cancelled. (Interesting how all of those revolve around money. If it hits me in the wallet I learn a little bit faster, apparently.)
Others have taken me a lot longer to absorb. It wasn’t until I spent some quality coaching time with Chris Lema last year that I finally got comfortable talking about a client’s budget. Or learning how to pitch my ideas to a client so they actually care about why certain design decisions are made. Or realizing that criticism about something I’ve designed isn’t criticism of me as a person.
Then there are the lessons I haven’t quite grasped, even though they’ve been problems for most of my life. I’ve wrestled with one of them for the past month. Even though I know it’s a problem, I’ve just kind of glossed over it and made excuses for it.
I’ve been such a perfectionist about something that not only has it kept me from finishing a project I’m really excited about, it’s prevented me from doing other stuff because I haven’t finished that first project. I’ve been caught in an endless loop that I created for myself. Whee!
Perfect is the enemy of good
Last month around this time I posted part two in a case study about the brand, UX and design refresh I’d done for Chris Lema. I was really excited about part three, where I was going to explain the UX strategy we developed. I was so excited, in fact, that I wanted it to be perfect.
That’s the problem. If you’ll notice, part three still hasn’t been posted. That’s because it still hasn’t been written. And that’s because I’ve been caught up in a manic cycle of trying (and failing) to make it perfect.
My first problem was when I noticed that the wireframes weren’t exactly like the design comp I’d created. In a normal project, that wouldn’t bother me. I make tweaks to wireframes in the design and build process all the time! Something that you thought would work doesn’t, so you figure out a better solution, iterate, test it out, and go from there. It’s part of the design process, and isn’t a big deal.
But I wanted this to be perfect, because I loved the project and wanted to show it in the best light. So it was a big deal, suddenly. Instead of including a paragraph in the blog post about how sometimes things change in the process and you just go with the flow (and actually showing what the process is like and, you know, educating people about how change happens), I started editing the original wireframes to look exactly like the comp. Not just the desktop version, but the mobile wireframes too. And then i thought, hey, maybe I should do an inside page since some of the changes I made would affect them, too!
And then, because I was in the PSD file to make sure all the wireframe changes matched my document, I started making little design tweaks. “Maybe an icon would be cool there. Or a calendar icon might make more sense than the document icon. And I think that typeface should maybe be bold instead of italic.” I was caught up in making something that I’d already built perfect because I was sharing it with an audience and just Could. Not. Stop.
The truly ridiculous part of all of this
What’s completely irrational is that this project is never getting built. It was an intellectual exercise from a year ago. Chris isn’t going to hand these wireframes off to a developer to build. The design is never going to find its way onto ChrisLema.com. I am trying to make something that will never exist outside of this case study into something perfect. How dumb is that?
“Excuses are like buttholes. Everyone has them and most of them stink.”—My Dad
I’ve tried to tell myself there’s some other reason for not finishing the case study series or otherwise blogging for over a month. I’ve told myself it was because of WordCamp LA. Or the pro bono project I’ve been wrapping up. Or the other client project I just kicked off. Or business development. Pretty much every version of “too busy” that I can generate. But it’s not true. At least, not entirely.
Sure, I haven’t had time to redo an entire set of wireframes and endless design tweaks as well as finishing the case study post—but I’m the one generating all that extra work that I don’t have time for. The only reason for creating that extra work is this idea of what a perfect project looks like, and how until it is I can’t put it on my blog. I’d rather do nothing (even if it’s good) than do something less than my idea of perfection.
I like to say “OCD is just another word for designer”
Like Homer Simpson said, “It’s funny because it’s true.” But really, it’s not funny at all. The perfection problem hasn’t just affected that one case study. Because I’m so worried about making the case studies a series, I haven’t blogged about anything else, either.
I have probably five drafts of other blog posts that I could have posted but didn’t. I stayed locked in this limbo where I couldn’t move on to other posts until I’d perfected the last two in the case study series. I’ve let perfection pull me into blogging quicksand that I can’t seem to pull myself out of.
Crawling out of the hole
I watched Pee Wee’s Big Adventure over the weekend. There’s this part in the movie where Pee Wee sees a pet store on fire. He rushes in to save the animals, and the first thing he sees is a tank full of snakes. He makes a face, and runs back to save all the animals who don’t make him cringe: the chimp, the dogs, even the rats. Every time he passes the snake tank on the way in, he shudders and bails.
The perfection problem reminds me of those snakes. I see the problem, don’t want to deal with it, make a face and go do something else that doesn’t make me uncomfortable. Like right now, writing this post is making me slightly itchy, because it isn’t part of my carefully crafted plan of the order of blog posts. But I’m doing it anyway.
Eventually there’s nothing left to distract him from sucking it up and doing what he knows he has to do: he grabs a couple of fistfuls of snakes and runs out the door. I’m hoping that by being able to admit the trap I catch myself in out loud, I might be able hold myself more accountable when I notice it happening.
I’m grabbing my fistfuls of snakes
It’s time to make a real effort to be less worried about being perfect, and more worried about actually getting shit done—no matter how scary or uncomfortable it is. I just hope I don’t pass out :D