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Understanding Perfection

It’s pretty well known that artists (and also designers), are never really happy with their work. That the job is never complete. They poke at it, adjust it, and tweak things until so much time has gone by that scope creep has kicked in, or the end result is actually worse than it was before!

I’ve met quite a few people who struggle with the quest for perfection. This article is dedicated to all of them, as well as myself (guilty as charged!), or you, if you find yourself beating your head against the wall in frustration.

Let’s start with a definition



the condition, state, or quality of being free or as free as possible from all flaws or defects.
"the satiny perfection of her skin"

An admirable goal

Looking at this term from a mile-high view, it’s easy to understand why someone would want to aspire for their work to be as faultless as possible. Wouldn’t that give us a feeling of pride and achievement? Damn right it would! It makes sense, right? Sure it does.

Yes, but no. Not really.

The problem that many of us as illustrators and designers face, is that in order for perfection to be attainable, it needs to have a specific set of criteria that qualifies it as “perfect”. And with creative works being such an incredibly subjective form, how can you possible define those rules, let alone meet them?

Simple: You can’t. Creative work will always have an abstraction that never meets the goal of being perfect at it’s highest level. You will always find something that can be adjusted, meaning that you will never be 100% satisfied with your own work.

Hey Anton, why are you trying to be such a meanie telling me that my work will never be perfect?

Because it’s true. But before you start drafting up the hate-mail, let’s revisit something I mentioned up above: “a specific set of criteria”. This is the part we can use to our advantage. Rather than consider the whole product to be binary perfect or not, it works to our advantage to break the work up into smaller components, and try to get them to be as close to perfect as possible.


Art is tricky, because knowing when to stop and publish is hard to pin down. But there are questions that you can ask yourself that might be able to help get you there:

There are easily a dozen other things you can ask that fit your particular work, but the goal is to establish rules for your work, beyond just “does this look good or not”. Also, asking a friend if they like your art, is almost as bad as asking them if those pants make your butt look big. For the sake of your friend, don’t go there.


Design is a bit less tricky, as there has already been so much discussion online about establishing things such as components, symbols, and design systems. These sorts of items can help establish constraints to the project, and ensure that each part is perfectly matched with it’s sibling parts. That everything lines up the way it should. The typography is balanced and consistent. Images help support the strategy of the content.

When thinking about these parts, consider them to be rules for your project. Use them, live them, love them. Agree on the terms with project stakeholders, go over them again, and then put them on ice, never to be touched again! Only then should you start a design project. Your goal of perfection is now part of the design system.

At the end of it all, you might still see things you want to change, but if you have done everything according to the established guidelines, you’ve probably gone as far as you need.

The secret ingredient

I’m saving my favorite part for last, because it’s a bit of a paradox. I believe that before something can obtain perfection, it should contain a small amount of imperfection!

What? That’s crazy talk!

It might be crazy, but I’m serious. Whatever that imperfection might be in your work, it can lend a sense of character and personality. The randomness that shouldn’t be there, but just works.