Embracing Competency & Letting Go of Design Perfection


It seems like every designer and developer out there is on the hunt for perfection. As if somehow that’s our ticket to the top. The distinguished projects, the big paycheck and the booming business. It all will come if we just…do the impossible?

The trouble is, we mere mortals aren’t known for perfection. Sure, subjectively someone could look at a project in our portfolio and say “it’s perfect”. Flattering as it may be, another person may look at that same project and give it a “meh”.

Recently, I’ve begun to realize what a pointless pursuit this is. Since design (and even code) is so subjective – is perfect really a thing? In my view it just seems like a big old waste of time. It’s an impossible standard to hold ourselves to. And thus, it’s ultimately counterproductive.

So, if we’re not after perfection, just what are we aiming for?

Give Competency a Chance

In my own journey, I feel like competency has become a bit of a lost art. It also gets a bad name, as some seem to equate it with mediocrity.

However, that view doesn’t take the whole picture into consideration. To me, being a competent web designer is a pretty awesome thing. It means that you:

  • Know what you’re doing and employ a professional approach;
  • Have valuable experience and use it to benefit your clients;
  • Understand what works (and what doesn’t) in terms of how a website looks and functions;
  • Can be relied upon to do the job the right way;

To be sure, none of these traits are guarantees of perfection. But put them together and it means that there’s a good chance you’ll deliver outstanding results. That’s something the vast majority of your clients will see and appreciate.

When it comes to web design, competence may be a bit of a bland term. It certainly doesn’t stir up the emotions quite as much as “perfect”.

Still, I take it to mean that a design is solid and the code is technically sound. In other words: it looks good and it works the way it’s supposed to. In the end, isn’t that what both designers and our clients are hoping for?

A woman smiling.

What We Gain by Leaving Perfection Behind

The idea of achieving perfection is a fool’s errand. As such, it can feel like forever climbing a mountain with a boulder strapped to your back. You’re more likely to be stuck in place rather than making progress.

Letting go of this idea is freeing. It can help clear your mind and remove those thoughts of not being “good enough”. You’re no longer competing against whoever or whatever you consider to be perfect. Instead, you’re simply doing your very best.

And there’s the irony. It may sound like aiming for competence means lowering your standards. But it’s actually the practice of being comfortable in your own skin. It’s realizing and accepting your strengths and limitations. Then, striving to improve with every project.

In all, you’re no longer trapped by the walls that perfection puts up around you.

A person looking out over a lake.

How to Get Started

Maybe all of this sounds nice enough. But what does it take to let go of this unproductive pursuit? I don’t think there’s one single playbook to follow.

Each of us have our own unique experiences and they inform our approach. But in general, it’s about changing how you look at your work and your place in the industry.

Celebrate Past Projects for What They Were

For instance, it’s easy to look at past projects with a highly-critical eye. This is a natural reaction. Why? Because you’ve likely grown as a designer or developer. Therefore, you see things you might have done differently.

But instead of focusing on the negatives of those old projects, look at what you did right. Maybe a particular project saw you employ a new skill or technique for the first time. Or perhaps it was a success for your client.

Rather than see it as a list of could haves and should haves, think about that project as a step in your progress. In its own way, it helped you get to where you are now.

Don’t Allow Yourself to Be Defined by What Others Do

Your portfolio may seem, in your opinion, to be better or worse than that of your peers. That’s to be expected, as we are all at different points in our career. Not to mention the differences in market niche, location and industry connections.

Some may have booked that big project to put them on the map, while you’re still waiting for that opportunity. In these scenarios, it’s important to keep things in perspective.

It’s great to seek inspiration in what others are doing. But you don’t need to hold yourself to some imaginary standard based on their success.

Try to look at your personal progression as a solo trip. In that way, your only real competition is with yourself. And getting to where you want to go takes time.

Flowers in a field.

Become the Best Version of You

None of us are perfect. We all have our share of successes and failures. But, by themselves, those things don’t define us. Rather, we are defined by what we learn from each and every project.

When compared with the relentless (and perhaps pointless) aim for perfection, I believe this is a much healthier approach. Personal growth doesn’t need to be perfect. There will be fits and starts. Learning to accept that is key.

The beauty of competency is that it’s actually something we can attain. Not only that, but with a little elbow grease we can continue to improve upon that trait over time.

So, while the thought of being perfect is more buzzed-about, the act of being competent is what will bring you the most joy.

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