Design by committee


I’m sure you’ve seen it before. A new ad or logo or marketing campaign is being presented to a room full of people. The people nod their heads and smile throughout the entire presentation. They’re writing notes here and there. They’re focusing during they key points. All seems to be going really well.

The presentation is over. Everyone around the room looks very pleased with the work. The first person to make a comment says what a great job was done and that it addresses all of the objectives well. But…

There was one thing that they’d like to change. It’s not a big deal. However they would really feel more comfortable if you could make that tiny adjustment. Then another person chimes in. There’s also that other thing that isn’t quite working. More people start interjecting. They start throwing out scenarios of other ways to approach it. Then they start suggesting solutions on how to fix it. It snowballs from there.

More and more comments fly at you. You try to digest everything they’re saying, but much of it is contradictory. You try to go back and explain the reasoning behind the original concept and how it all works together. But it’s too late. They’ve got in their heads that these changes are necessary to move forward. You try to consolidate their feedback and identify some clear next steps. Which they agree with. However, they also don’t want you to forget the other comments.

You walk out, confused, defeated and more than anything just disappointed that they took something so clear and made it so utterly convoluted. It doesn’t even make sense now.

This is the dreaded phenomenon so many creatives dread, but happens all too often.

Why does it happen?

It’s not any one person’s fault. When you sit in that room, you need a reason to be there. If you don’t speak up, maybe you don’t get to be in that room next time. So when someone comments, of course, you feel the need to comment yourself. Maybe you were ok with it before. But, hey, if you don’t say something, what would people think of you? That you don’t have an opinion? That maybe you don’t need to sit at the table?

Committees aren’t trying to screw things up, it’s just the nature of the game. And honestly, there is no true solution to it. You can’t be better, present better, produce something better from the get go to prevent it. Because that’s not why it’s happening.

Better to embrace the dynamic instead. Incorporate it as a natural part of the process. Ask yourself, when is the best time for a committee comments to make people feel they contributed, but won’t screw everything up. Usually it’s in the beginning because by the time it comes down to design, it is too late. It’s impossible for a committee to make meaningful contributions that will improve the work at that point.

Set expectations by committee. Brief by committee. Plan by committee. Concept by committee. But avoid design by committee at all costs.

Originally published at AIDIA.

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