The phrase “pixel perfect” is pretty much ubiquitous now, but it wasn’t always. The phrase itself is straight forward and easy to understand. While it had a slow start, making things pixel perfect isn’t easy to actually do. These days it’s important to understand how this phrase affects careers in the digital landscape here and now.

I created one of my first websites in 1996. It was for a very popular jean company in South America. The website was rudimentary and at the time was their creative director. I was making my pivot to digital after receiving some very good advice.

The idea that things could be pixel perfect at that time wasn’t in the calculus for me. It was more like just getting things done well – not done perfect. Maybe this is your standard today. The standard was really no standard. Flash was everywhere.

In the 2000s things changed. The dot com bubble popped and online businesses were out of the business while others took the path of the tortoise and slowly expanded. The iPhone hadn’t yet come out.

Print at the time was seeing a contraction, but there were many designers that thought digital was a lost art. From their perspective one couldn’t really create something that lasted or was perfect online. I didn’t see digital that way. I saw an opportunity to touch many people more than the average print designer could.

There was a definite shift occurring circa 2005. As I recall CSS was becoming a little more robust and that was leading me to the inevitable pixel perfect vision of digital things. At the time, I was working in travel with one of the many sister companies of Expedia and our goal was to get close pixel perfect. But that was an internal goal. That wasn’t something the industry saw as important. That was something we did as badge of honor. It was our craft that we cultivated.

I know. I get it, but Apple was always perfect right? Is that what you’re thinking? Or maybe another Tech firm or Agency or Game house was doing pixel perfection? Yes and no. I didn’t see agencies in the South East even have processes that could lead to pixel perfection in their ops. People were designing in code or in Photoshop and not iterating and not thinking about the why let alone pixel compliance.

Things start speeding up 2007-2010 after the first iPhone drops. Apple got its mojo back. Thanks to them and a ton of well-designed products in market. The idea that a “web designer” could present one thing to stake holders and deliver something very different was becoming a risky proposition.

Design was being democratized before our eyes. It wasn’t just about making software like Microsoft had done so well in the past. It was about creating pixel perfect user experiences with software at its DNA.   

Today most tier 1 agencies have specific procedures to measure pixel compliance. Whether it be good old Photoshop or custom overlay tools, agencies know what they want. And agencies serve important clients and do so globally.

Here’s the important part. Delivering work that is anything less than pixel perfect is a reflection of the maturity of your craft. If you deliver crap work well then, you’ll look like crap and likelihood of you getting hired by people that actually know difference is slim to none.

What I’m saying may sound harsh. But that’s the way I learned. I remember taking a call from an agency partner of a great firm that specialized in WordPress. I delivered work within a 3-pixel compliance for a household name client. And she told me if did that again I would be out of a job. That’s right. First and last warning.

Her standards back then where way higher than mine. She was unapologetic. I am so grateful now that she did that. It changed my view of myself and my craft. It leveled me up. If your standards are low maybe it’s time to raise them. We’re talking about your craft not playing at a hobby.

Today the top performers in the S&P are not only pixel perfect but they are doing work from design systems. Pixel perfect is the standard. It’s not optional if you want to get to the next level. I hope you strive to polish your craft so that your markup looks good. But it should always be user experience that is pixel perfect.

Ignoring standards that took decades to mature is career limiting.