Why Design by Committee Works against you, Avoid falling in to This Trap


- Lance Johnson 01.14.2016

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Design by committee is the bane of every designer, one they can never steer too far from. It’s a heart wrenching moment when you have just showed your design, you had so painstakingly labored on, to your client and apparently, your client seems pleased. However, in the next instant, your clients bestow the kiss of death upon you; they can’t go with your design until they have shown it to a group of people first. These very words are enough to send a shiver down a designer’s spine and the sinking premonition of ensuing chaos and madness makes sweat break out over one’s brow. After all, too many cooks spoil the broth; destroy it more likely!
After episodes of futile finger pointing, too many product inputs, and a host of unsolicited recommendations and suggestions, you might feel as if they have stripped your design of its soul and turned a pure deity in to a garish mishmash. A board of individuals deeply rooted within the company and supposedly having “profound intimate knowledge” about the business, feels they are better suited to judge the merits of your designs. Mostly their recommendations are devoid of any logical, marketing, or business reasons, and often go against the very core of design principals. Here’s why design by company is absolutely cringe worthy and worth avoiding: 

1. It Destroys the simplicity of Design

A pure design communicates the essence of a business in a meaningful way to others, all while staying true to the short term and long term goals of the company. In an ideal parallel universe, all companies have clear and goal oriented definitions of their core values. Many large companies do and thus, provide each new employee with a guide on how they function. Such corporate manuals are replete with big words such as “leveraging”, and “synergy”, much like most employees are listed as “passionate” on their resumes. 
The company wishes to instill these values and missions in to every employee and partner because every organization has a story to tell. However, when it comes to the reviewing committees, they often consist of a jumble of people who lack the devotion to the company values and storytelling. This lack of dedication can pass on to the work they are reviewing. They are often inclined to pass personal recommendations which contradict with the theme of the message the business has to portray.
If you try to please everybody, you run the risk of ending up with an odd, watered down design, integrating the conflicting opinions of everyone. To combat this dilemma, make sure that all the members of the committee are on the same page, especially if the committee includes people who might not have the same needs as the prospective users. Your reviewing committee needs to be informed in the history of the project and the success criteria. To judge your designs from a business perspective, they need to have a thorough understanding of the target audience and the business objectives that you are trying to meet. They also need to be aware of corporate guidelines in order to make informed decisions. 

 

2. It Brings Together People with Diverse Backgrounds

Instead of reflecting honestly upon the design, the committee members resort to sharing opinions about the things they don’t like about the design. Reflective feedback is extremely helpful, crucial, wonderful, and should help in guiding the designer closer to the design goals. Feedback shouldn’t be based on the individual opinions, preferences, and backgrounds of the committee members. Companies, organizations, and brands constitute a plethora of individuals who might have completely conflicting demographics. They have separate values, believes, experiences, and ideas. 
However, the committee needs to know that design is not a matter of taste. A well executed design is about producing stories, structures, pieces, and systems that work together seamlessly. You need to inculcate an understanding of how things work and the ability to make them better in tuned with the overall goals of the organization. To prevent members from passing irrelevant judgments, ask for feedback in stages. Often, when a final design is presented to a committee, somebody would say it’s not the right shade of yellow, somebody would object on the site navigation, while it won’t click with somebody else. 
Try to separate the functionality and aesthetics of the design and ask for feedback in stages. Wireframes would suffice to portray the information hierarchy of your site, while mood boards would give them a feeling for the tone, theme, and color scheme of the design. By putting them up for judgment separately, you lower the risk of your design being rejected for silly reasons and would ensure that the committee focuses on the more important issues at hand. In addition, if some element does get rejected, it would be quicker to amend and implement than tweaking a completed design.

 

3. It Fuels the Battle of Correctness

If everybody in the world is allowed to be right, it would be one chaotic world! Each element of your design could fuel a heated debate amongst the members, with each member boasting a “Holier than thou” attitude. Not to mention the alpha personalities, who would completely hog the discussion and scare away the quieter, timid individuals from speaking their minds.  To soothe all the members of the committee, approaching them individually with the final design is way better than holding a collective meeting. It might sound counterproductive at first, but would save you a lot of trouble in the future. One-to-one discussions avoid long fiery debates and make each member believe that you have listened to them and incorporated their feelings and ideas in the design. It makes them feel that their opinion is valued.

 

4.Ask the Right Questions

You may be so pleased with your design and eager to glean a compliment that you would ask outright what the committee thinks of your design. However, this approach puts you in danger of getting personal responses and should be avoided. Instead, the most prudent way is to ask questions that elicit yes/no responses and are specific to the objective of the design. Ask them if the design meets the business goals, if it is in tuned with the corporate branding, and whether they think the target audience would like it. Such questions make them concentrate on the most important issues at hand instead of delving in to nitty gritty details. These questions also prevent the committee members from voicing their personal preferences and opinions and let them judge your design only in reference to the brand goals.

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