Perfection doesn't exist

About 3 min reading time

What is perfection? Who decides what is perfect, and when does one know when perfection is achieved? Is it even possible to achieve? Questions, questions. This post is a bit abstract and blurry, but I find the subject interesting and worth discussing.

If you do creative arts, may it be graphic design, web design, or UI design, it’s easy to strive for perfection. You tweak them pixels and sacrifice sleep in order to achieve the glorious word perfection. If you are like me, you value the details and want things done thoroughly and polished. You want to get it “just right”.

But does perfection exist? It’s a bit abstract and perhaps read as a whimsy and irrelevant discussion, but yet I’m still pondering over the idea that perfection isn’t achievable by humans.

Perfection is subjective and not permanent

Take code as an example. There are many snippets which are said to be “perfect” and “beautiful”. They are regarded as prime examples of the genius features of <insert hipster programming language here> . But what about my idea of a perfect piece of code? We may not share the same idea of perfection.

Say the language designers add a nifty feature which makes this code snippet ugly and outdated. It’s not perfect anymore. Perfection, like fame, is transient and isn’t loyal to its host.

The eye of the beholder and creator

I mentioned different notions of perfection before. As with everything related to artsy subjects, perfection is subjective. It’s my opinion that it’s plain wrong to proclaim a piece of work perfect, since it’s only from your point of view (which however should be the only view that matters, but we’ll not getting into that now).

Should the author ever acknowledge his work’s perfection? Isn’t one suppose to always strive for further excellence and not stop at any limits?

“Heaven is not a place, and it is not a time. Heaven is being perfect. And that isn’t flying a thousand miles an hour, or a million, or flying at the speed of light. Because any number is a limit, and perfection doesn’t have limits. Perfect speed, my son, is being there.”

– Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull (great book, I strongly recommend it)

The quote above says Heaven is being perfect. It also mentions limits, which is exactly what an author creates when he or she states that “My work is perfect. I’m done”. Do you hear how dangerous that sounds? A piece of handcrafter art shouldn’t have limits.

Ego

I put too much pride and, inadvertently, too much ego into my work. Things took too long to create, and because of the amount of effort put into the work, significant changes, based on client feedback for example, were more difficult to stomach.

Greg Wood, Designing for perfection

I want to highlight the “ego” part, which may diminish one’s judgement and neutrality. When you go for ultimate perfection it’s easy to take every critique … personally. As the quote says, every change (and there’s always going to be changes) could get bulky, cumbersome, and perhaps associated with a certain bitterness of the creator, since in his or her eyes the work is “perfect”.

An example. Some time ago I used “pixel perfect” grids and layouts for every web design mockup I created. Everything was perfectly aligned to the columns and baseline, and when the eventual changes came, it was a bit tricky to align everything correctly again. Of course it depends on the rigidity of the layout framework of your choice as well. But in my case I’ve started to work with more rough proportions and relative measures instead of column grids. It allows me to create more flexible and maintainable designs. But as always, it depends on the nature of the design.

We are all humans. Humans change their minds about things, and nothing is set in stone. If you constantly are changing your mind, how could perfection every be achieved if it’s altered regurarly? In that case, you’ve probably fooled yourself.

Everything above can be applied to human behaviour as well. We often hear “nobody is perfect”, which is indeed true. If nobody is perfect, how can anyone create works of perfection? Shouldn’t only perfect people be able to create perfection? Weird questions, but actually interesting.

Outro

Perfection can be looked upon as a state of mind – an ecosystem, a favourable turn of events, or simply a glass of water – pure, simple and humble. I like the idea of perfection as something that just is – something that I can’t put words on, but just exists (perhaps without any purpose at all).

In the end I think it’s important to always remember that perfection is just an abstract concept or synonym for something that’s stopped evolving – reached its limits.

Therefore, I don’t strive for perfection – I strive for excellence.