Let’s talk about your perfectionism and how it’s a problem

A designer’s reflection after 5 years in the industry

Phylicia Flynn
4 min readSep 21, 2020
Person sitting at a white desk with an open laptop, notebook, glasses and sticky notes all neatly placed.
Photo by STIL on Unsplash

About my background

Hi, my name is Phylicia and I am a recovering perfectionist. Since you are reading this article, I’m assuming you can relate.

Perfectionism is a common theme among designers of all types. It’s even hard to say if I was a perfectionist because I am a designer or did I become a designer because I was a perfectionist?

My background is in Interior Design. I went to a college exclusively for Interior Design and after graduation I started to work as a designer in an architecture firm. And the common theme of perfectionism was more prevalent than ever. Long hours, no lunch breaks and working weekends were frequently mentioned during office chats and seemed to be part of the industry standard.

After 5 years of working in two different architecture firms, I decided to attend an online bootcamp to make the switch into UX Design. And it was there I learned a super important lesson through usability testing:

It’s okay to make a “mistake” because from that mistake, you can make your designs better.

UX Design taught me to embrace these “mistakes” as learning opportunities and to get your designs out there as early as you can so you can make those important improvements.

Project Perfection Syndrome

But let’s back it up for a second…

While working, I decided to take the examination to get certified as an Interior Designer (NCIDQ) which consisted of three exams. While studying, I came across this one term I have never heard before: Project Perfection Syndrome.

It’s a term used in Architecture and Interior Design that essential tells you that no project will be 100% perfect. Sorry, it’s just not possible. The chart shows the hours spent on a project versus the percentage of “perfect.” At the beginning of any project, the hours you put in exponential increases the progress. Once you hit a certain point though, the curve plateaus and will never hit 100%.

Chart showing y-axis as percent of perfect and x-axis as time elapsed and the curve approaching 100% but plateauing off.
chart by author adapted from ARE 5.0

Even though we are taught about project perfection syndrome, I cannot name one interior designer or architect that isn’t a perfectionist. So why do designers work so hard towards perfection when it’s not even achievable? Why can’t we more accurately set our boundaries to know when it’s “good enough”?

More time does not equal better work

Do you know Chris Do? If not, stop everything and get in the know! He’s a designer who is a genius (biased opinion, maybe, but probably not).

I follow him on LinkedIn and I came across this one post a few days ago. He was referencing a post that included a video of someone drawing the same character at 10 minutes, 1 minute and 10 seconds. The original post was trying to prove that more time spent equals better work. And this is Chris’ response:

Screenshot of Chris Do’s LinkedIn post arguing that more time does not mean more value
LinkedIn post by Chris Do

Damn, he is a genius.

Now let’s talk Physics (yes, the science)

Alright, now I’m going to wrap up my point by using science. Because you can’t argue with science.

Did you pay attention in physics class? If not, here’s what I can tell you — there’s two types of energy: kinetic and potential. The video below demonstrates a marble on a path of only kinetic energy (flat) and one utilizing potential energy (hills). I know it’s a long video but take a peak at the 2:13 mark.

Notice how the marble with the ups and downs actually goes faster and longer than the marble on the flat, easy path? Do you get the lesson here?

Embrace those ups and downs in every project because those bumps may appear as if they are set back but are actually quite the opposite in the end.


Be a marble of kinetic and potential energy! And as the saying goes, “fail fast, fail often.” Let go of the fear of failure/mistakes and accept them as learning experiences.

Have questions or just want to chat? Don’t hesitate to reach out!

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Phylicia Flynn

Interior Designer transformed into UX/Product Designer. NJ transplant living in the Midwest. Has an affinity for dogs, spicy food and coffee shops. phylicia.co