How to avoid ‘design by committee’ and why you should at all costs
Find out how to make your voice heard as a designer and why it’s important to lead by example on any given creative project with your clients.
By Simon McCade
The problem with the fact that design is everywhere in this interconnected world is that everybody thinks they are a designer.
The creative trade gets muddied along the way when projects adopt a ‘design by committee’ approach – everybody thinks they are a designer and everybody, no matter how small the group, has an opinion.
It’s not a bad thing by any stretch that multiple opinions come into the mix, but we all need to know when to introduce them and when to move on from them.
Experienced designers will lead clients through the design process; if it works the other way around, the end-product is rarely what you envisaged.
The problems with ‘design by committee’
The crux of the issue is that ‘design by committee’ doesn’t support collaboration. It’s unfulfilling for both the designer and the client because it leads the process down the path of inexperienced decisions and misaligned opinions.
When designs are shared by a point of contact with wider internal groups, it can be frustrating to see opinion after opinion roll in via email. The more people involved in the process, the more likely there will be differences of opinion, which makes the overall design process more complicated than it needs to be.
This is because personal preferences always come into play.
No matter how aligned with business objectives other colleagues might be, they are not wholly aligned with the creative process of design, so the planning and strategy element isn’t immediately visible. What’s more, there usually isn’t the capacity to explain it all to each contact before they see the design, which is somewhat restrictive.
This means that a lack of knowledge of basic design principles negatively affects the planning and strategy that has gone into a piece of design work and the project can morph beyond recognition because of personal preferences.
The importance of leading the design process as a designer
It’s crucial to anticipate any potential stumbling blocks at the inception of the project and it’s the designer’s role to let the client know about them.
If the client still requires internal feedback – and it is often the case that they do – it is recommended that you request that feedback is filtered internally so a clear voice can be defined. Conflicting opinions can complicate matters and jeopardise the flow of the project, so pulling a project manager in will help streamline everything.
As the lead designer, it’s crucial that emotions and personal attachments are removed from the project altogether from the onset. You can only work smoothly with a PM if you cancel out the exact aspects that you’re trying to avoid from the client’s side of things. Lead by example.
The alternative: Find the freedom
There are clients out there who will trust your vision and allow you the freedom to create. In other words, there are clients out there who hire professional designers because they want a professional designer to do the work for them – and I’ve been lucky enough to work with many of them in my time.
It’s much more fulfilling and most established designers know that these kinds of opportunities aren’t as few and far between as you might expect.
Everyone wins in these situations. The client gets a more agreeable end-product and the designer has more creative licence and control over their own portfolio. It also sets the scene for a more fruitful and productive client/designer relationship in the long-term.
Remember: You are the expert
The notion that you should avoid ‘design by committee’ at all costs does not mean that all other opinions but yours should be discounted. Opinions are valuable, but remember that you are the expert and you have been hired for your expert opinion.
You should utilise a mixture of your own knowledge and experience and take learnings from the opinions of others to inform your design to find the best solutions.
It’s often been the case on my projects that stakeholders can contribute more to the workflow when they are concentrated on wider business goals because I’ve then been able to use their opinions to shape my work without getting into granular (and often unnecessary) detail.
The crucial thing to remember is that you are the expert and you should be leading the design process from beginning to end for the best results. This way, you can not only manage the project efficiently, but you can also manage its timeline by ensuring that unnecessary conversations don’t delay anything along the way.