Design by Committee

When it comes to design I believe two heads are better than one. The theory being that varying perspectives lead to a more dynamic solution. You might also say that there is a synergistic effect when talents combine that creates a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. If this is true, then what about including a bunch of folks in the creative process? What about “design by committee?”

In the early days of my design career I dreaded working with groups on a logo, a brochure or any design concept for that matter. Often, I would find myself art directed into a corner and producing something that was intended to be a “gazelle” and ended up looking like a “giraffe with chicken legs.” This was because I had the best intention and wanted to make everyone in the room happy. I wanted everyone to be heard, represented and part of the process. Though I meant well, I was unskilled at navigating group design. I had no compass!

The key to a successful outcome in design is to keep the end user or viewer in mind. Who will be receiving the message? What do we want them to think, feel or do when they see it? If a group can agree to what success looks like at the outset than they can navigate the process as a team successfully. Every decision for judging the design will be based on whether it speaks to, addresses and fulfills the criteria. In other words, the group has a compass and they know collectively where true north lies.

Without criteria for judging a design established at the get go, members of a group must rely on their own preferences, which are unique to them. This might work if the person doing the judging truly or even closely represents the demographic of the end user or viewer. More often than not groups represent a cross section of humanity. Using their own preferences to judge may lead to each member of the committee asking for a design change that pulls the concept apart like taffy. An originally strong concept becomes weak, and lacking clarity. On the other hand when groups work with an agreed upon criteria for judgment, they leave their ego on the sidelines while they advance the ball for the greater good of the team.