Is Design Ever Really Done?

Vince Lombardi once said, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”

Chasing perfection in matters of design and branding will certainly lead to excellence, but it’s a fine line. When taken too far, perfection can stifle creativity, and delay perfectly good launches or prevent them from ever seeing the light of day. But when design perfection is approached as a marathon – continually iterating and improving over time based on testing and feedback – achieving excellence in the eyes of the customer is possible.

When do you draw the line on design? When do you just ship it, versus making one more tweak to that particular pixel? Mike West, Director of Design at Tallwave, shares a few insights:

How do you know when the design is at a point where it’s ready to launch?
Don’t wait until it’s “perfect”, that’s far too subjective and you’ll never get there. Get your design to a point that it’s testing well for usability and meets the target design principles, then put it out in the real world with real customers and iterate from there. Once it’s out there, live with it for a little while, learn more, test it, gather feedback, then iterate.

What pitfalls do brands tend to fall in when it comes to design?
A challenge I run across is the desire to get it “perfect” right out of the gate whether it’s a logo, website or app. There’s always the urge to move something three pixels to the left or question if it’s the right shade of gray. But the thing to remember is it’s never going to perfect, and it’s never going to be done. A design should be viewed as a living, breathing thing that will change over time.

How often should those changes be made?
Whether you are creating a brand or a product, the goal is to build a platform that enables you to learn and grow upon. You want to develop a system, brand, and voice that can adapt to new changes in the market and changes with the customer base. A design should always be ready for evolution – enabling your clients to adapt and build upon as often as their markets and innovations demand.

How do you find the right balance between over-perfection and striving for excellence?
Use the needs of the customer (or user) as the measuring stick, and not your own personal taste or that of the client. It’s all about striving for balance, but you should be giving the needs of the customer far more weight than your personal taste. One thing I remind our clients of is that design requires agreement but not widespread consensus. Not everyone on your team, or your board will absolutely love this, but we have to be able to agree that the chosen solution is the best way to move forward based on testing and customer data. Take the emotional side of it out – you want your customers to be making the emotional connections – and rely on the simple facts from testing.

How often should organizations iterate and test their designs?
Iterate and test at every opportunity possible. This is especially true for large feature launches, entering a new market, or undergoing any other major shift. You should be iterating, testing and validating before rolling it out. And once you do roll it out, continue that process. You may have learned during the initial testing how to refine which options you’re going to launch with, but you’ll want to continue to test so you can find new opportunities to improve or where you can make modifications or micro-tweak things to continue towards the current goals.

With this in mind, perfection as an end goal can be a powerful means to an end when a process of iterating, testing, and validating is in place. But don’t let it put a halt your production. Design is a fluid, ever-evolving process that will change as the needs of your customers change. When you focus on the customer (or user), excellence will most certainly be in reach.


Mike West

Director of Design

Principled design leader and client advocate

Mike is Tallwave’s Design Director, where he provides creative direction and leadership to the team as they design user interfaces and experiences for clients that delight users. But Mike is a player coach, rolling up his sleeves on work for clients such as AppointmentPlus, LevelHead, AudioEye, and Skyline Technology.

Prior to Tallwave, Mike was the Creative Director at Ethology, and before that was the Interactive Design Manager at Fender Guitars. Mike also brings entrepreneurial experience to Tallwave, as a partner in two creative agencies, Provis Media Group and condit.west.creative.

While Mike’s dedication to his craft is apparent in everything he does, when he’s not at work you’ll find him spending time with his family, waxing his muscle car, or spinning one of his hundreds of LPs. He’s the guy you want in your Journey cover band.

Mike holds a degree in Graphic Design from the University of Kansas, and Interactive and Web Design from the Art Institute of Phoenix.