Tag Archives: design

Design pitfalls: Design by Committee

We’ve all marveled at spectacularly ugly logos, or unbelievably stupid movies, or completely inexplicable web sites. And when we see these things, we wonder – who came up with that? Who thought that was a good idea?

Often, the answer is: nobody.

It was a committee.

It might seem odd that a group of people working together should be able to come up with something that not one of them actually likes, yet, in my experience as a designer, it happens all the time. A company rebrands, only to revert to the previous branding a few months later. A company goes through an absurdly lengthy logo design process, and in the end nobody is happy with the result. Or maybe everyone in the company is fairly happy with the result, but they discover that their customers find the new logo, or slogan, or name, to be baffling and unpleasant.

No group is immune to the pitfalls of a committee design. It seems difficult to avoid – after all, you can’t have a logo or a web site that some members of your organization just hate, can you? And some compromises are inevitable in a cooperative business environment.

Why do committee designs tend to turn out so badly? There are three major reasons.

1. The design nobody hates is also the design nobody likes

Consensus is good, right? You want everyone to be happy with the results of your design. But not everyone is made happy by the same things. We don’t always like the same music, or the same TV shows, or the same clothes — we don’t decorate our houses the same way – is it any surprise that we don’t always like the same designs?

The bolder the design choice, the higher the chance that someone on the committee will actively dislike it.

Eventually, a consensus will be reached – usually on a design that nobody actually hates, but everyone finds kind of boring. Over time this boredom deepens into profound dissatisfaction, somebody decides to spruce up the company image, and the cycle begins again.

2. You really can’t have everything

A common complaint about web site, logo, and package designs is that they are too busy and visually cluttered. They have too much going on, and none of it is very clear. Visual clutter is usually the result of trying to include too much — and one way that happens is committee design. Everyone on the committee has their own personal thing that just has to be there.

3. Warning! Egos ahead!

Committee design projects often become a playing ground for every other dynamic going on in the organization — status conflicts, ego conflicts, personal vendettas, pet projects. Sometimes, deep conflicts about the direction of the organization as a whole manifest themselves as conflicts over design.

Sometimes ugly designs are even the result of passive-aggressive lashing out, either by frustrated committee members, or perhaps by the designers themselves, after one too many contradictory design iterations.

In general, the best way to avoid the worst pitfalls of committee design is to give one person — hopefully, one person with some design sense — final approval on the project.