A designer with perfectionism

Perfectionism explained

Recently a guest speaker at our breakfast event talked about her experience with perfectionism. She was brilliant. Ironically, quite perfect.

I know that because the feedback from Zoe’s* talk was unanimously positive. What was interesting is Zoe is at the start of her career and she presented to a group of mid to senior creatives. The overwhelming feedback is the majority wished they knew what she knew when they were her age. 

Here’s my take of the talk…

Perfectionism can take many forms.
The common element is perfectionism sets you up to fail.

Point 1: Don’t kid yourself, perfectionism is not about ambition.

Ambitious people set standards within reach. They set themselves up for success.
High achievers learn from mistakes and bounce back from failure: perfectionists beat themselves up, thinking they’re not good enough.
High achievers react positively to helpful criticism: perfectionists become overly defensive at criticism.

Oh, don’t mind me, I’m just a perfectionist is bullsh!t

Point 2: It is not helpful to tie happiness to achievement.

Everyone deserves happiness, regardless. But it’s hard to be happy and think positive thoughts when your inner critic is constantly berating you and your achievements. So don’t rely on your thoughts. Instead hoard hard evidence you’re a good, competent individual. Zoe does that by keeping screenshots of all the good things / accolades / congratulations people have sent. Others keep a folder of emails ready to read through when your ego needs to be bolstered. Whatever works.

Bad thoughts stay in your head, so force yourself not to dwell on the mistakes by reminding yourself of your achievements.

Point 3: No one is perfect.

*Insert your hero here* is not perfect. It’s sad but the person you admire is probably good at some things and pretty sh!t at others. We are all imperfect in one way or another. Get over it.

Point 4. You gotta learn to accept uncertainty.

Creatives like to take control. We like having things just so and we don’t like it when stuff moves/changes/is adapted. Added to that, that feeling a lack-of-control is one of the characteristics of burnout, and no one likes to experience burn out. So, try to accept we can’t control all outcomes, opinions or decisions. Embrace the uncertainty.

You certainly can’t control the future by trying to be perfect.


My thanks to Zoe Hu, a digital designer currently working at Love and Money, for sharing her research around perfectionism. I first heard Zoe speak as part of an AGDA Victoria presentation titled: First Five Out 2021: First Foot Forward. It was five talented creatives sharing stories about five years from graduation. All the talks were valuable, but Zoe’s resonated most with me, and with the rest of my breakfast crew.

On the same thread, I once read (but sadly can no longer find the reference) that the last 5% of time spent on any project is usually of little value — it’s time used in the pursuit of ‘perfectionism’. It’s unusual for a client to notice those last ‘tweaks’ so it’s not time spent to meet the brief. Think it’s fair to say not much of anything – not satisfaction nor profit — comes from these last tweaks. Aiming for perfectionism sets us up for feelings of failure.

What do you think? Got any problems/questions? As always, happy to discuss further, just email.

Carol Mackay

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About Carol Mackay

After 30+ years running a graphic design firm, Carol pivoted from client-focused projects to consult to the design industry.

Carol’s special power has always been an ability to use design to translate difficult to understand or complex messages. She believes design brings clarity to complex issues. From clarity comes understanding, and understanding leads to knowledge.

As a designer she used those skills with clients like The Magistrates, County and Supreme Courts; Ombudsman schemes and Emergency Service agencies. At DBC she uses the same skills to help designers de-mystify the complexities of managing a small business.

Outside of DBC Carol mentors graduates and is an active volunteer at Never Not Creative, a community of creatives pushing for change in the creative industry.


An archive of Carol’s previous career is at mbdesign.com.au.
Current work can be viewed at designbusinesscouncil.com and designbusinessschool.com.au.

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