September 12, 2016 Category:

Structuring the “Design-by-Committee” to be Victorious

We’re all reaching for the same goal: to precipitate the flourishing of your company. So how do we go from creative concept to product reality and finish with a winning product?

The method of approaching a project with the system of full-democracy and committee-oriented decisions has been tried and tried again with consistent failure. As the saying goes, “A camel is a horse designed by a committee.”; resulting in a poor, “lumpy” design, full of poor temperament. This group decision-making results is an ineffective attempt of incorporating too many conflicting opinions into a single project solution.

With the trend turning for clients to hire marketing personnel in-house, more and more I will be working along side my clients’ in-house department rather than displacing it. With the tendency to still operate under the old design-by-committee protocols, how can we invite all the players to the table and avoid common pitfalls?

The Drawbacks:

Usually I am a full proponent for democracy, but there are two stand-out components that reveals the lack of success of democracy within the design-by-committee approach:

1. The first is that this is a creative venture.
If this were a science project built solely on facts dictated by known physical limitations, the path to possible solutions would be undiluted and could be approached in a very matter-of-fact effort. Regardless if you are developing a company logo or a hand-held physical product, design & development is comprised of components that go beyond logic and enters into the realm of emotion and human interaction. The aspect of developing your brand has emotional, fluid components, therefore we can not approach this through compromise and get award winning results.

2. The second is over-stepping the capacity of expertise.
Too many times with design-by-committee, everyone gets an equal say, regardless of their mastery of knowledge or experience on the problem at hand. This is the biggest hazard that eventually results in mediocre design solutions.

The Solution:
So, how do we foster the development?

After an evaluation of the classic physical restraints of time & budget limitations that could effect a project, and assuring those allowances are adequate to reach the goal, what practices can we employ to properly foster development?

Step 1: Clear and Unrestricted Input, but without Group-decision
The first step is to list the project objectives and goals. Not solutions, just the goals at this stage of the game. Whether we are talking about a new logo, a website, or product packaging, each person on the committee is going to bring their expert insight to this gathering of objectives and goals. By approaching this Step 1 brain-storming session from perspective of zero limitations of being open to all input: product design, cost, customer needs, etc. it opens the solutions up to all creative possibilities.

Step 2: Begin the Refinement Process with Respect to Expertise
Now that you have allowed unfiltered voices of the committee, going forward it is critical to now identify the roles and designated decision makers. Step 2 is where the democratic process stops, and there is a clear designation of who is responsible for what. Too many cooks can spoil the broth, and it is important early on to establish the duties within the kitchen.

Appointing project responsibilities will be different for each company. I work with some companies that have formally educated marketing personnel on staff, and smaller companies that have no such defined personnel. Regardless, it is best to appoint one person to be the front-man to be in charge of — and given the authority to — project approval on each project phase. For me, as the creative vendor, knowing who is the designated decision-maker makes the goals more defined and streamlines the process. If these role designations do not happen, the process can be a ping-pong of endless back-and-forth of conceptual development which leads to continual dilution of the creative fire.

Step 3: Move Beyond Fear and Highlight Your Distinction

The reason that camel ended-up so peculiar was for two leading reasons:
1. Trying to please everyone and incorporate too many ideas into one solution.
2. Not being bold enough to truly being who you want to be.

The first point is plain to see, the second point a little more concealed. The reason that camel ended up so odd was the lack of courage to be genuine to who you want to be. Adding every possible solution to the camel did not make him more attractive to every possible demographic, it made him unappealing to all, which lead to dysfunction. This lack of focus resulting in an absence of authenticity.

The design process does not happen in a vacuum, but we all have different roles to play. I cannot make the ultimate solution without the input of the client and the know-how of their product offerings, client base, and market goals. Combined with the design measures in developing an action plan, as well as expertise that Cross Design can offer in visual form, typography, and color theory, we can arrive at a qualified, bold solution.