I was recently watching Malcolm Gladwell’s MasterClass and he mentioned a concept that really intrigued me - the concept that perfection is boring. Now of course he was referring to writing - how imperfect writing creates intrigue and interest, but it got me thinking about how that concept can be applied to so much more.
We’re all chasing perfection, be it in our work, creative pursuits, or life - but rarely do we stop to think if we should. I know I rarely (if ever) stop to think if perfection should be the goal, it just always seems to naturally be the goal, but Malcom Gladwell got me thinking. I’ll pose a question:
Would you make a movie about someone who had a perfect life?
I think it’s safe to say that would be the most boring movie ever. No conflict, no challenge, no character development, no obstacle to overcome - just a movie about a perfect person living their perfect life. Boring. It’s interesting how we are constantly chasing perfection, and yet the movies and shows we consume are always about imperfection. But I digress.
How then does this apply to design? Well here are some suggestions:
I’ve heard designers speak about intentionally breaking your design - where you design something as perfect as you can, and then intentionally place an element that ‘breaks’ the design. An example might be if you design a pair of black jeans using black denim and black thread, but the stitching on one belt loop is bright orange. This can be a great way to implement imperfection in your work, especially for a brand because you can develop your brand's design language around the imperfections you place in your products. Martin Margiela’s four white stitches come to mind when thinking about this technique.
Another option to bring imperfection into your work is to show the process behind developing your work. This is a great way to show imperfection because it can absolutely fascinate people. The reason SpaceX is so interesting compared to similar companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, or Blue Origin, is because SpaceX unabashedly shows their process. They have no qualms about live streaming one of their rockets inadvertently exploding to anyone who cares to watch. It’s bold for a company to do that (especially a rocket company) but man is it interesting! Think about a cooking show if it didn’t show the frantic chefs preparing the meal, if the show just started with the chefs showing their final creation. Pretty boring right?
Another option, and the one Malcom Gladwell talks about, is leaving your work unfinished. He cites a research paper that discusses a concept for over 3000 words, and then ends with the writer being called away to a different project and never reaching a conclusion. This can be a great way to bring imperfection into your work because tying everything off at the end can be boring, but leaving it open ended can really stick in someone’s mind. Like a jigsaw puzzle with a missing piece. Or an article that doesn’t