Design school has, undeniably, conditioned us to strive for perfection in our work. Juries tend to respond best to the highest quality product, both graphically and conceptually. Top grades are preached as being given only to projects that achieve a certain level of perfection, where doing what is required will simply not suffice. When you add this idea to the fact that studios are a catalyst for competition, it is not surprising that we graduate with the attitude that perfection is the only option. (A quick footnote: we need to be trained in this manner)
Entering professional practice presents a different reality. When you are no longer a student pursuing individual goals, but instead a resource utilized to complete multiple projects efficiently and beautifully, the notion of perfection naturally shifts. Entry level work is initially centered on production and producing a multitude of products for a variety of projects (scale, context, client, design language, etc.). It is possible to put in long hours as one would in a studio in this scenario. However, the responsibilities of the professional designer evolve and you are called upon as more than just a production machine. When responsibilities become more integral to the overall success of a project and eventually multiple projects simultaneously, perfection as we have come to know it cannot be sustained.
Not all projects are competition entries, nor are all projects documented for professional awards. Projects need to be profitable and budgets need to be met. In this case, we have to revise our notion of perfection as has been conditioned in the realm of academics. This is difficult. But, just as we develop a mastery in many practical skills and better understand design, we more quickly achieve beautiful and well thought out concepts, graphics and built work.
Ultimately, the revision is not to settle for less but to push ourselves to continue to learn and, at times, relearn what we have previously been taught. Shifting from academia to professional practice means building upon experience and learning from those who have been in the profession for much longer. When we begin to depart from the idea of perfection (every line just right, every color in perfect harmony or contrast with the next, every tree and shrub perfectly placed) and just put pen to paper, so to speak, we may actually be achieving more beautiful and less restrained design.
Our profession is great in the fact that there is always room to perfect and perfect again - but it is even more interesting to manage that desire for perfection and design without inhibition.
I am interested to hear responses in the form of criticisms, agreements and outright disagreements.