Is Good the Enemy of Great in Web Design?
The popular phrase "good is the enemy of great" echoes a cautionary advice for the inspired and hopeful. The phrase means settling for acceptable or "good enough" results will prevent you from achieving greatness.
This advice, by logic, does stand to be true–allowing our second best effort so that we can just get the job done by the end of the day will always leave us short of our true potential as web designers.
Instead, it would be ideal for us to give 100% every time we fire up Photoshop or lay down a new line of code. Being great–under the premise that good enough prevents us from being great–means never failing, never being wrong, never producing work that sucks or is mediocre, and always being afraid and cautious of what we do.
However, is striving for greatness on every pixel we touch always the best approach to becoming successful in this business? Is good always the enemy of great?
Here’s my proposition: It is entirely possible to make great web designs without being a great web designer. Being a great web designer consists of making your clients or your boss happy, all of the time. It means your sites are usable, flexible and semantic. It also means you meet deadlines. It means holding a solid reputation within the design community. It means all of that, and more.
A great web designer doesn’t really need to make great web designs all of the time. And also, you can easily create superficially great web designs, even when your bosses and clients hate your guts, even if you always miss deadlines, and even if you use table-based web layouts. So, what does being great really mean? And is being good enough counter-productive to being great?
Experienced designers know that perfection frequently falls beyond a deadline, and that getting there is often impossible when we are trying to reconcile many other aspects of being a web designer, like staying within a project’s budget, communicating with bosses and clients, managing our junior staff, dealing with personal issues that might be affecting our productivity, and so on. When projects have deadlines and limits in resources, a great web project can quickly turn into a good enough web project because good is, well, good enough.
Many designers out there make a great and comfortable living creating work that is consistently just good enough and mediocre. And, to be honest, there is nothing wrong with that. They might not get their designs featured in design showcases and galleries, but hey, for them, the income they make is a good enough indicator of success and greatness.
On the other hand, we do always have the option to push ourselves to be better at what we do. We always have the choice to say, "Hey, you know what, I want to innovate today." Let’s face it, if every web designer was just good enough day in and day out, then the web design community wouldn’t have a whole lot to look forward to.
Being great, then, doesn’t mean not being good enough; it just means choosing times when we can afford to be great.
Those who dig down to achieve great things drive us all to improve. For this reason, great web design plays a huge role for all of us; it leads to constant and perpetual innovation.
The good news here is that great web designers aren’t born with the talent to knock our socks off–so anyone can be a great web designer.
The bad news is that great web designers have had to earn it with hard work, sacrifice, and a true commitment to the craft. Do you have it in you?
The Mentality of Being Great
Sometimes things are just not as complicated and hard as we would hope them to be, so we’re left with no excuse not to pursue them. It’s easy to think that some people are born with better abilities, so we can justify to ourselves that there’s no use in putting the effort and making sacrifices to becoming better.
But just like with many professions in this world, web design is a skill that, through practice and commitment, can be mastered. The drive to always learn more and always improve is what separates good designers from great designers–not some innate, superhuman ability.
Hard work has a great tendency of paying off. Those who are working hard to be great web designers will be rewarded so long as they take advantage of opportunities as they are presented to them.
Breaking out of a daily routine of good enough web design and into great web design can simply be a matter of taking advantage of an opportunity.
Greatness Is in Opportunities
Opportunity can come in a variety of forms, and often depends on the environment we have created for ourselves.
For the freelancing designer, opportunity may come in the form of a fun and exciting project or a great idea for a personal project. For those working in an office or on contract, it can be in the form of a new direction for the company or getting a lead role on a critical project.
Keeping an eye out for the opportunity to try something new, to improve, or to try and be in a better situation than where you currently are is what great designers do constantly.
Some people may argue that boredom is the root of evil when it comes to the lack of opportunity. I believe the real troublemaker here is fear. Web design isn’t exactly the most terrifying job on the planet, but our fears can still get the better of us. For a lot of designers who find themselves stagnant in the good enough area, the problem may be a fear of breaking out into something new and something outside of their comfort zone.
Developing new skills by leaving behind what you are comfortable with can be a risky thing because we aren’t always promised improvement. For example, early implementation of CSS3 and HTML5 in your web forms may be two steps forward, or it may be one step back.
But if we take no steps at all, sooner or later, we are going to find ourselves way behind.
The real secret here is that you can’t be afraid to suck and you can’t be afraid to be wrong. Eventually, we will learn that becoming great at something requires a lot of time spent being really bad or being just good enough at it.
When Greatness Strikes
So we have an enthusiastic eye out for that unique opportunity that provides us the chance to become even better at what we love. What happens when that moment arrives? What do we do when the opportunity to become great at what we do is upon us?
Well, you need to milk it for all it’s worth, of course. You don’t get these opportunities every day, so go balls to the wall, all out, to get the most out of every opportunity that you possibly can.
Confidence is a huge factor here. A fearless designer will realize that they may be wrong at any time, and that being wrong is better than never trying.
Second-guessing yourself will quickly land you back into that nasty pile of good enough work, and you won’t get everything out of the opportunities that present themselves to you.
As a web designer, you should embrace every opportunity you have to try a new technique that may be a better approach to the way you’re currently doing things. Experiment with a new web layout structure you’re not comfortable with, or a color scheme that you’ve traditionally been avoiding. We all need to take a measure of when we can get away with pushing forward and taking risks. We need to do this today, because tomorrow might just be another day where good is good enough.
Is Good the Real Enemy?
Good web design is more of a barrier to great web design only because we still need to be good enough and consistent at what we do, day in and day out. But good is never the stopping point of becoming great from time to time. It might be unrealistic to think that any of us can achieve greatness every day, but it is realistic to at least try, and the more we take advantage of the days we suck at design, the greater the opportunity for us to learn and grow.
Fear can blind us from seeing our true potential because it is scary to try and fix a problem that we never knew was broken.
At the end of the day, being just a good designer isn’t the enemy of being a great web designer; the one thing that levels the playing field is good, old-fashioned hard work.
What situations in your daily routine could be an opportunity for improvement and growth?
Have you experienced times when you didn’t take advantage of an opportunity to develop professionally because of a practice that was outside of your comfort zone or a skill that you had to learn?
Share your thoughts in the comments.
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About the Author
This was published on Dec 30, 2010