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Written by Oscar

Perfectly Imperfect Digital Design

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We live in a world increasingly concerned with perfection. From carefully curated Instagram grids and manicured website experiences, through to slick mobile apps, ‘pixel-perfect’ design is revered as the pinnacle that businesses strive for at a time when different brands are starting to look and sound alike.

But is perfect really all it’s cracked up to be? Does the real world have a bigger role to play in digital design and marketing implementation?

Digital channels like websites and apps are made to be used, to be handled, and played with, they are not supposed to remain ‘mint-in-box’ and so while their dents and scratches may be visible, they don’t diminish their use.

The Devil’s in the detail

We’ve all been there, working on a website with expert UX and UI designers, front-end developers, and brand creatives, meticulously constructing a system that beautifully combines colour, fonts, balanced typography and perfectly cropped images.

The site is launched and we finally need to let go. The training is done. The guides written. We’ve worked with the content teams to populate the site. It’s beautiful, it’s clean, it ticks all the boxes.

Then the carefully curated headings, paragraphs, page alignment start to not match quite so well. A call to action runs over two lines instead of one pushing the vertical padding to a breakpoint. Articles added with too many visual elements, the wrong headings, and the trickle of stock imagery creeps in. Where will it stop!

Putting the dramatics aside, this very real scenario is all too familiar for digital teams. Marketing can sometimes be seen to ‘ruin’ a perfect design, but if the day-to-day use of the CMS broke the pristine veneer of the design, was it really perfect in the first place?

Embracing Wabi-sabi

Perfection to the detriment of usability is not ideal in the digital world, and users will not be kind to the business with a gorgeous piece of digital real estate that doesn’t allow them to do what they need with ease.

Accepting imperfection is the underlying principle of the Japanese ‘wabi-sabi’, a traditional approach to aesthetics that many in the design and marketing space could borrow from. While it’s important to plan for real content and uses, sometimes how a site ends up when in the practical hands of marketers is exactly how it should be!

Much like a house, a website or digital channel of any kind can often benefit from being viewed as ‘lived in’. Customers are increasingly looking for authenticity from the brands they support. Transparency and genuine connection come not from a pristine, disingenuous experience, but from a relatable, realistic encounter with the human face of the brand.

Of course, this is not to say that a site should be intentionally ‘bad’ as that won’t win trust either, but if there is a typo or a line break in the wrong place, you’re likely to be forgiven as human.

A great example of where this humanity can pay off for brands is in the ‘Oops, we can’t find this page’ 404 error. Brands can use clever copy on these pages to make the fact that something has gone wrong endearing to the customer. Why? Because they acknowledge that sometimes even the biggest players make mistakes, it humanises the brand and builds trust in the audience.

How to be perfectly, imperfect

Now it’s important to state that imperfect does not mean broken, nor does it mean incorrect. Marketers should always invest time crafting content to solve a customer problem and shape this in such a way that it suits the channel it appears on. We shouldn’t go out of our way to make something look less than perfect by any means.

However, it’s important to consider whether striving for perfection may hamper other important things, like delivery.

Designers can sometimes spend too much time making something perfect, but in a digital world that is forever changing, this is a fool’s errand. Having content live on a site that is 80% perfect, will be much more impactful than spending more and more time aiming for 100% and finding you’ve been pipped to the post by a competitor or that the piece is no longer relevant enough to have the desired impact. A perfect compromise won’t always exist, so it’s better to move forward than to give in to inertia.

So how can marketers and digital designers work together to find a place where they are both comfortable with the levels of (im)perfection present on a digital channel?

Working in harmony

It’s best to be upfront with these things and try to ensure the design team acknowledges that done is in many ways, much better than perfect. Getting this out on the table early means negative reactions to how the design is used later can be mitigated.

If you’re working with an agency, lean on them to help have some of these discussions and push on the real-world impact of the project over aesthetics.

There really is a gritty beauty in the real-world use of a site that designers, and marketers alike, should embrace. It’s time to be practically imperfect, in every way.

Here at Pepper Digital, we embrace the gritty humanity of imperfect digital content and design and believe that those working to achieve perfection should be open to the possibilities it provides. Get in touch to find out more about our approach to effective digital design.