perfection is a matter of perception
A few years ago a close friend of mine emailed the following quote to me:
I disagree with Mr. Churchill. In my opinion, frequent change can lead to nothing other than perpetual imperfection. I have trouble understanding how such a varying way of being can result in anything but something less than perfect. Perfection, for the most part, is a product of human perception. I am reminded of an interesting quote on the matter of "perception" as penned by Giacamo Casanova in his book "History of My Life."
I would venture to say the same about things perceived as perfect by human beings in general. Similar to the way a microscopic view of a diamond can reveal imperfections, human beings, upon closer observation, can also reveal imperfections. And just like diamonds, humans too can be "polished" to mask imperfections.
My disagreement with Churchill’s quote is based on the assumption that the rate of change is high. How often is often and how does that translate into the modern concepts of time? I’m sure that we all would admit that society is growing and evolving a tad bit faster now than in Churchill’s time. If we take into consideration, the rate of change which brings about perfection, we reach a point where we can neither agree nor disagree. If the rate is slow, then it is too infrequent to allow human observation of such change. As a result, there is no visible way to distinguish between the two and track the delta between perfection and imperfection. Many of the ecological and solar changes of the planet and the solar system go unnoticed due the slow rate at which those changes occur. Up close, from where you stand, the rate of change is so infinitely small that you fail to notice the chaos all around you. Imperfection becomes more and more visible as the degree and rate of change increases. This phenomenon is not much unlike the process that occurs when heat from a mircowave oven speeds up molecules in food and enhances our perception of flavor and taste. In which case, speeding up molecules in food can influence what we perceive as a perfect meal.
As in the case of human beings, if we change gradually over time, it appears that we are still the same person, and that perception is the cornerstone of any relationship. This applies to a relationship with a brand just as it does to a relationship with a person of the opposite sex. Call it change management. If you are constantly changing who you are, things will always seem imperfect or out of place. You will find yourself in a perpetual state of re-work and rejection. There is a classic usability study where eBay sought to change the background of the website from yellow to white. They made the change overnight; it was immediately met with resistance and rejection by its users. They called, complained, screamed, and detested the change. So, what did eBay do? Think about this quote from Casanova.
To put it another way, Casanova understood the concept of embraceable change. So what did eBay do? They gradually changed the color of the background one shade at a time and the people never noticed. The original change happened too fast, and therefore, was not embraced by the users. There is a strategy and science to orchestrating embraceable change.
Perfection, much like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Minimize the degree and rate of change, and increase the perception of perfection. As it relates to the web, avoid radical site redesigns at all costs and opt for iterative refinements that can be made gradually over time.