Recently I posted a tweet about the idea of pixel perfection and it struck a chord with a few people, so I thought I should elaborate:
Too many new web designers chase pixel perfection. You should do what’s practical, not what’s possible.
— Nick Pettit (@nickrp) August 6, 2013
Pixel perfection doesn’t have a technical definition, but it’s basically the idea of working so hard on a design that almost every pixel has been given some degree of consideration. The contrast of every border is sharp, the space between every content module is exceptionally proportional, and the weight of every font is just so; and admittedly it looks pretty great. On the web, a pixel perfectionist will strive for a ridiculously consistent experience across every device, every browser, and every screen resolution. They often take pride in their ability to deliver on this promise to their clients.
There’s a time and place for pixel perfection, and the web is not it.
Don’t Get Me Wrong
In the fine art world, they say that a painting is never finished. Neither is a website. There’s always going to be something that you can do to make it better, even if that’s taking a design from 98% to 98.2%. If you carry this mentality through every last detail, you’re doing yourself and your stakeholders a disservice, because you’re spending a lot of time on things that don’t make a big impact.
I think the desire to tweak every detail comes from print media. Reprinting a large run is almost impossible, so it’s important to get everything right the first time. This is why major publications have lots of editors and people proofreading before they hit the press.
Things change constantly on the web, so if there’s a few small issues here and there, it’s very easy to roll out a quick update. Sure, first impressions count and you need some solid follow through after that, but don’t spend 90% of your time squeezing out the last 2% of beauty. Staying up until 3am fixing a weird padding bug in an older version of IE isn’t going to convert more customers, so get something out there and start finding the real problems. The beauty of the medium is that it’s easy to iterate.
Experimentation and Time Spent
Drawing on the comparison between print and web once more, I think the physical nature of print makes it more difficult to experiment, especially in fine art where the processes are more labor intensive. The cost of experimenting on the web is almost zero, so you should try a lot of things and see what works.
Experimenting is how you grow as a designer. By trying out lots of different things and exploring the broadest possibilities, you’ll rapidly figure out where to focus your time. You’ll learn what works, what doesn’t, what you’re good at, and what you need to improve. Sometimes you’ll even stumble upon something that nobody has explored before, which is pretty fun. This is a big reason why I’ve been using CodePen lately: There doesn’t need to be an immediate practical application and context for your ideas.
For example, I made this CSS filmstrip (below) because it was an idea that popped into my head and it seemed like a fun way to spend an hour. I’m not totally thrilled with the way it turned out and it probably has a lot of cross-browser issues, but that’s not the point of experiments like this. If I decide to use it on a production website, I can worry about all of those things and work on them. More importantly, if I decide to create a similar experiment, I’ll have all the experience I gained from this one.
If you’re making things all the time, you’ll become faster and better. Focusing hard on one thing will give you tunnel vision and can make it difficult to see the big picture. By moving rapidly from one idea to the next, you’ll start to find efficiencies and patterns that can decrease the amount of time you spend on each project. I pause to mention this, because increasing your speed is a lynchpin of your value as a web professional. If you’re billing per project, you can work on more of them, and if you’re billing hourly, you can increase your hourly rate because you get more done in less time.
A website is never done, so learn how to put down the paint brush and move on. Everything is temporary.