Suffering from OCD can sometimes have implications in evaluating a design project: i.e. Over analysis, over-revision, etc. Forensic attention to detail is usually expected of design projects. So how can a project be viewed/framed more realistically for people with OCD?

Are there any exercises/methods of evaluating work in a more practical way, in order to avoid over-analysis? When is work "good enough"? Sometimes a project brief isn't specific enough to help in this way.

  • I am really not sure how this is design related. OCD symptoms aren't different for designers AFAIK. And design projects don't hold more problems than any other projects for people suffering form OCD.
    – KMSTR
    Commented Oct 24, 2015 at 14:44
  • @KMSTR Well, as far as I know, it can have an impact, speaking from experience. And anything that can ease the design workflow is relevant. Of course, I can't speak for everyone.
    – johnp
    Commented Oct 24, 2015 at 15:24
  • Of course it can have an impact. But how is it any different?
    – KMSTR
    Commented Oct 24, 2015 at 16:06
  • @KMSTR I notice your post on another question that the design stack is becoming a little broad. I respect that. But from my experience and discussion with design students, it seems mental health issues, in general, are becoming prevalent obstacles in the design industry. I'm sorry if I have stretched the boundaries a little...
    – johnp
    Commented Oct 24, 2015 at 16:25
  • 1
    Speaking for myself, graphic design is different in that it involves an iterative process, with each step requiring evaluation before proceeding to the next step. With ocd, it can be difficult to move on, sometimes spending too much time on proofs or preliminary work.
    – johnp
    Commented Oct 24, 2015 at 17:06

4 Answers 4


I don't know about a universal method for this, but I am a perfectionist to an almost OCD level, with my designs. Ultimately, though, the designs are for the client and not myself.

When I have something I feel is at least somewhat presentable, I send the client a proof. If they say it's good, I usually leave it alone.

In my mind, things could always be better and I would probably tweak these things until I die, but the project has to be finished at some point.

I think the goal is to get the design as close to "perfect" as you can within a set timeframe.

If you keep going back to the project, you will almost always find a shadow that's slightly too dark, a font that might be too bold, that line that is juuuust one pixel too low...it will never end (in my mind at least).

  • Thanks for your answer, John :) Time limits are very helpful. For larger projects, how do you manage? Getting a proof to the client early is helpful. Although this is difficult with projects that require illustration work, I find. I'm going to leave this question open for a while so see what everyone has to say!
    – johnp
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 15:38
  • 1
    I like to send proofs along the way, if it's a larger project. If I get a new idea or the design starts to shift in a new direction, I send a proof to make sure it's one that the client agrees with. There is nothing worse than investing huge amounts of time perfecting a design to your taste and thinking it's perfect only to have the client disapprove of it. @johnpharrell
    – Manly
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 15:43

Your design is "perfect" when nothing can be removed from it. That's a good starting point.

But doing design isn't just about doing design, it's about the challenge of doing the best you can within the timeframe you have and according to the requirements of your client. That's very close to the mindset when you play sport or a game. You play one game, you do your best and then it has to stop; most time the goal is to win, some games are not big wins, and a few times you might just not score any point at all. But the goal is always to do your best according to the rules and the opponents, and these things are variables. You can judge your performances by appreciating what you did in the amount of time you were allowed to put on your project, and get some satisfaction from this. As my art teacher used to tell me, perfection is impossible.

That means nothing will ever be as you wish it because you have to limit yourself to a certain number of hours and not all requirements from the clients are "design friendly." And that's not specific to design actually, authors suffer from the same problem... it's not easy to let go and say "ok, it's good enough now." So maybe a trick is to start to tell yourself "ok, it's good enough for a 10hr project @ $xxxxx!"

The thing that helps is to change your mindset and consider you are doing some kind of contest. There's no big failure when creating unless you quit because of criticisms or you don't get paid; that should already take away some pressure to succeed. Find ways to organize your thoughts to be efficient so when you'll start designing, you already have an idea in mind of what you want to do and it will be fun too. And see the whole process for the challenge it is, not as a representation of who/what you are.

My process for designing starts by gathering inspiration by looking what has been done and what feel I want, then I choose my fonts, then my colors, gather all the images and logos, then I start my layouts with that "pizza". Along the way, the inspiration grows and it's easier to create. I take some breaks and do other stuff in between to let the ideas sink in, and when I get back to work I feel I already have a good idea where I'm going or what's the next step. Maybe you're having OCD issues because you force yourself to create something genius instead of connecting with your ideas and letting them come to you. When you feel you're just going around in circle, go take a shower or a walk or pet your dog or something! RESET! I don't believe in muse, I believe inspiration and ideas are all around, and when you're in a good mindset you're more attentive and observant, and all you need to do is grab ideas on the way. It's effortless.

I also prepare a few proofs and drop them as PDF in a folder without overthinking it, and then I sort them all at the end to keep the ones I prefer and improve them. The goal isn't to do something perfect the first time, it's to explore some possibilities and play around with different ideas. When I get stuck on one, I simply jump on another one and come back to the first one later. Often, the first tests are more "crappy/cheap" with good base and the last ones are better. When I look at all of them together after my "first rounds", that process helps me to eliminate the bad stuff and mix-n-match all my ideas together... and keep only what I consider the best. It also helps me to take a few steps back to look at all the proofs together, and then it's easier to see what's missing or what could be better. Sometimes it takes a few rounds but I'm content when I send my proofs to my clients. I can also count on my clients' feedback; what I love isn't always what they love... And that's part of the challenge.

You can put more time than the budget allows it on some projects but you need to gain from this and it needs to be fun. That means if it makes you practice your skills or create things you never have the opportunity to create, then it's great. But if you're having anxiety issues because of this, then take a break, do something to clear your mind and then come back on your work. This way, instead of moving things around and doing endless changes, you'll be more efficient and you'll have a pretty good idea of what you want to achieve. It helps a lot to take breaks and reset, and come back to look at your files later; you'll see your layouts with a new view.

Or simply send your drafts to the client and wait for feedback... Even if your clients give you negative feedback, it's not about you. It's just pixels in the end. You'll have the opportunity to improve your designs and as you mentioned, it's not always clear what the client wants. Sometimes they don't really know themselves; your drafts will give them some visual clues and your next proofs will be built on all this. So even bad proofs are not useless if they help you prepare the next round of proofs or helps your client give you more precise requirements/instructions.

A lot of designers feel "suck in" by their designs and can't step back; their designs and creations become "them" and it's harder to be rational about the project's scope in these moments because... don't we all want to be/look perfect? -coughs- ;)

That's why I think it's your mindset you need to work on first.

  • Thanks for your answer! I think the sport metaphor is very helpful.
    – johnp
    Commented Oct 24, 2015 at 15:36

I don't suffer from OCD but I have always had problems with knowing when something is 'finished'. I especially had problems with it back when I was a student. I would spend hours and hours tweaking and fiddling and end up with something not that different to where it was before.

Working with other people and having them look at drafts really helps me.

As you said, not having a very specific and detailed brief will make this a lot worse. The best way to deal with this is to write your own briefs. Even if the client gives you a well written brief (which doesn't happen often in my case), write your own. Be as detailed as you can, set yourself solid deadlines (these don't have to match with any deadlines you have with your client), goals etc. This all varies by project of course but be as detailed as possible.

As John said you are designing for the client not for yourself so a work is "good enough" when the client thinks it's good enough.


Good and open communication with the client and your peers are one of the best tools to use to avoid "getting into the weeds". This creates flexible and responsive feedback loops that help you stay focused on what really matters. It does require candor and the ability to show unpolished work (yes its hard). But knowing that this will help generate a better and more polished final product is usually valuable enough to overcome that hesitation. In the words of Ed Catmull, director of Disney Animation Studios and famed director of Pixar Animation,

"Don't wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others. Show early and show often. It'll be pretty when we get there but it won't be pretty along the way. And that's as it should be." - Creativity, Inc. (2014)

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