If you’re a designer, you may be familiar with the term, “design by committee” and may have even had the misfortune of being subjected to it. For those who don’t know: design by committee is an approval process in which a team of people (3 or more) has a say in approving a design. And not a simple voting system, but an all out critique of the work as well as authority on making revisions. This is often how a design will die a horrible death.
Why is design by committee a poor method for approval?
In a perfect world, there are one to two people who have the final say in approving or disapproving a design. However, with more and more companies adopting leadership teams and a board of directors, this ideal is slowly going away. Introducing “design by committee.” Here are few reasons why this method of approval is not in anybody’s best interest.
1. Difference of Opinions
The most common reason this method can really cause issues is opposing opinions among the decision makers. VP One prefers the color blue, VP Two is insistent on the color red, etc. The possible differences are endless. This can cause a huge delay in productivity and even increase the cost if excess changes are required.
2. Obscuring the Original Concept
If everyone has an equal say, the challenge to please everyone can be extremely difficult. Deciding to merge everyone’s ideas into one graphic can move the design away from its original direction making it very ineffective.
3. Endless Revisions
This relates to opposing opinions. A few decision makers can’t make up their mind on one particular graphic and constantly keep revising. Most designers include a limited amount of revisions in their quote and endless revisions can really jack up the cost if the client exceeds that limit.
4. Layered and Labored
Design by committee adds unnecessary layers to the process. A revision from the president can be misconstrued once it’s finally passed onto the designer—since people may interpret the instructions differently. The person responsible for contracting the designer is usually the key contact, but they’re not often the one making decisions. Passing the design up the ladder to get everyone’s opinion just creates a mess of confusing revisions.
5. Poor End Result
Most design projects are under the pressure of a client-based deadline. This is completely common and expected, but when things don’t go smoothly with approvals and revisions, it can really put pressure on everyone to simply settle on something they’re not happy with. This typically results in a poor finished product, that’s neither effective nor visually pleasing. If settling simply to meet a deadline results in a poor design, nobody wins.
How can you avoid these situations?
The answer is simple: appoint a single member of your committee to be the primary decision maker. This person would be the ultimate tie-breaker. If there’s a dispute over which direction to go in, consult this person. Ideally, the decision maker should be a leader in the marketing or design department, but often will be the CEO of the company. In any case, one person should make the final say and be able to do it quickly. Otherwise, if possible, focus groups can also offer unbiased direction.
What do you think?
Do you find that design by committee is an appropriate and helpful solution to approving a design or does it cause too many issues? Some companies may luck out and find that their leadership team members can easily work together to quickly make decisions—not often the case as I’ve seen it.