If there is a phrase that instantly strikes fear into the heart of any professional creative, it is the term “Design by Committee.” Just typing the words sent shivers down my spine and caused a small pit of nausea to well up in my stomach. It’s a gut reaction, yes, but a justified one. And it is only because so much can go wrong when the decision making process is approached this way. But if you put some guardrails in place and set some expectations early on you can avoid some of the most common pitfalls.
The Danger Zone
Now “Design by committee” is inherently dangerous in two ways. The first is simply a matter of time. No matter the size of the committee, if everyone isn’t in agreement, you run the risk of a longer decision making process with an even longer (and possibly more frustrating) revision process. Burning up billable hours left and right. It isn’t very often that a group of people can make one big happy decision together with ease. Just ask Congress. So when too many voices of concern start being raised you fall into the next trap, which is trying to find a way to make everyone happy. The result of this is something we call a “Frankenstein Solution.” A color from here, this typeface from over there, maybe a bit of this pattern from here. And walla! You have a solution that, in parts, satisfies everyone. It’s a watered down solution that has a short shelf life and is one of the worst things you can do in the creative process. And nobody wants that.
So how do you go about avoiding a messy situation? Well, we believe there are two things you can do that help ease the pain and suffering from both sides of the client relationship.
Designate a Leader
Every team has a coach. Someone who has a greater sense of the vision at hand and who isn’t afraid to make a tough decision here and there. And it’s the single most important thing every committee needs. Someone to filter the feedback/comments and narrow them down to just the important stuff. Someone willing to veto feedback that misrepresents or derails the current movement towards a solution. Everyone likes to have their opinion heard, but not every opinion matters. What’s that old phrase – “The Needs of the Many Outweigh the Needs of the Few” – the same thing applies here. That’s why you need a lead. Someone who, after say an agency presentation, reviews all the feedback and comments put together by the committee and filters it down to just the important facts. If that means stepping on toes or ignoring some minor requests, then so be it. Like we stated before, what every agency needs is useful and important feedback, not 50 bullet point list of all the things the committee would like to be seen in the next iteration of a single logo concept. It’s just too much and it’s the only way to avoid time delays and creative shortcuts.
Every Step of the Way
As with with every relationship there is and should be a healthy back and forth. There are times and places for big meetings, small meetings and everything between. The trick with a committee is simply making sure the entire committee is there for every BIG step of the way, not EVERY step of the way. The smaller steps would be for a smaller subset of decision makers. But the BIG steps, would be shared by all. It’s not necessarily that it is a waste of time, it’s that they can easily become time wasters. One of the things we are trying to avoid. 10 people don’t need to be in the same room to decide when the next meeting should be. So leave that to the key decision makers. But if you remember that old children’s game “Telephone” were somebody says something into a person’s ear and they then try and repeat to the next person and so on and so forth. Then you’ll remember that the last thing someone hears doesn’t resemble what was initially said. This is what can happen if all the key member aren’t present every big step of the way. They’ll hear a second hand account that may or may not be what was originally stated. Something we also want to avoid. It’s why the entire committee needs to be present at crucial points along the way.
I know that as much as I wish it would, the “Design by Committee” model isn’t going away any time soon. But if you take these simple steps with a large committee, the overall process should go much smoother. And hopefully get you where you need to go on time and on budget.