DesignPerfection v. Progress

Perfection v. Progress

I have a confession. We moved into our beautiful Craftsman Bungalow in 2017, and amongst the to-do list of renovation projects, there’s one that is particularly distressing to me:  Our garishly BLUE bathroom.  Every day for the last 5 years I have walked into this bathroom at least twice a day, only to get punched in the eyeballs. 

It’s a constant little irritant that adds to my mental load, and brings down my mood.  So why don’t I just re-paint it you might ask?  Well…as a designer I tend to be kind of a perfectionist (and also a VERY busy mom of two toddlers, who’s also running a design practice!  But that’s another blog post.)

I have been unable to commit to what color I want to re-paint the bathroom with. So instead, I suffer through this daily visual accost that arguably results in being a slightly less happy and productive person. 

Instead, I could just commit to a color, and end my suffering! But what if I change my mind later?! That’s okay too.  Paint it again, or simply end the agony and paint it white and then figure it out later – thus freeing up my mental energy to focus on more important issues, or to simply relax!  

Have you ever put off starting a project because you didn’t know exactly what you wanted to do yet?  Because you were afraid that if you started something that you’d end up having to do it over if it wasn’t perfect?  Or that just because you didn’t have the budget to tackle the whole project that you should just wait and do nothing at all, so that you didn’t end up having to redo things later? 

Perfectionism procrastination is a very real phenomenon.  I’m sure you’ve heard of it.  But did you realize that we see it all the time in landscape architecture?  And that the actual opportunity cost of perfectionism procrastination in design ranges from emotional health and wellness to lost opportunities to increase property value.  

It’s true, sometime people don’t know ‘exactly’ what they want to do, so they put off hiring a designer, starting the planning process, or implementing anything at all…Developers let a vacant lot sit growing weeds until the market conditions are just right, thus perpetuating bad market conditions…Cities with perpetually-underfunded budgets wait years to start a park or streetscape improvement for fear of putting in infrastructure that might need to be torn out later, and end up spending more on maintenance and crime prevention in the long run.

In landscape architecture, community design, development, and civic improvement, moving in the direction of your goals, no matter how small the step, builds momentum towards achieving your long term goals!  Here are a few specific examples that we see and how to avoid the pitfalls of design improvement perfectionism:

The Undecided Project.

Let’s start with the ‘I don’t know exactly what I want so I’m going to do nothing’ type.  First off, I can totally relate (see bathroom)!  Now granted that most landscape projects are a lot more complicated than picking out a single paint color, the principle still remains.  Stop suffering through the anguish of your non-functional/ugly landscape, xeriscape, or curb-appeal project! 

You don’t have to know exactly what you want to move forward, just start experimenting with some things.  Move the patio furniture around and buy a few new pieces.  Try out some new plants.  These small simple steps will set you on the path of engaging with your space.  And even if you fail, guess what, learning what doesn’t work helps you hone in on what does work!  

Better yet, take the first steps in planning your project.  Our design process is broken down into three phases: manifesting the big picture vision for the project, understanding the costs, and figuring out a path forward in a way that builds momentum, while also allowing for flexibility to refine and implement the design as needed moving forward.

Our project planning for the Pingree Patio helped to coalesce a big vision that led to the implementation of a beautiful Phase I: An intimate courtyard retreat.

Now the homeowners have a restorative space to relax and plan for future projects.

The Underfunded Project.

Much like my blue bathroom saps my mental energy multiple times a day, compromising my personal mental health and decreasing my job performance, that vacant lot, ugly streetscape, or neglected park is a daily reminder to your community that they aren’t worth reinvestment.  It’s perpetuating a negative feedback loop of community disenfranchisement that discourages individual investment, which in turn brings down actual property values and tax revenue, which in turn makes funding projects even harder to do.  

There are a lot of little community/civic design interventions that have low cost and big impact.  From civic volunteer and community clean-up days, to small-scale tactical urbanism projects such as an urban art gallery, community garden, or a street-calming intervention, there are plenty of low-cost ways to improve community image and build grassroots momentum.

Landscape Architect Salt Lake City

Platforms is an example of a low-cost activation of what would have been just another vacant weed-filled lot, adding value and building momentum.

The Invisible Project.

Even if your city is in the planning process for major civic reinvestment, the general public doesn’t know this and is therefore still trapped in that downward self-image and community disinvestment spiral.  

The previously mentioned civic engagement and tactical urbanism projects, combined with implementing smaller scale phases of larger projects, are all ways to make the often invisible planning and design process visible.  Phasing a project may cost more in the long-run, and result in some things needing to be re-done.  However, these projects buoy up community self-image.  This process creates a positive feedback loop that results in more positive self-talk, and average citizens going the extra distance to clean, steward, and make their own property investments, which results in increasing returns for everyone.

Our Nine Rails Creative District Master Plan built off existing community momentum and amplified the process through an arts-focused tactical urbanism project.

Any small action in the direction of your design objectives is better than no action at all!  But it is important to at least know the general direction you are moving in.  Having a project plan or some kind of design master plan will enable you to start building momentum – this is a great first step. 

Even if you are in the planning stages of a project, especially for civic projects, don’t forget to make the invisible visible through meaningful community engagement, small-scale volunteer projects, and phasing larger projects.  Don’t waste another day staring at garish blue walls!

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