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The Perils of “Designed by Committee” as a Pejorative

On a recent, large(ish) identity redesign project we found ourselves at the proverbial crossroads of waiting for our client to pick between two strong logos. Similar in premise, but different in execution, both of the proposed logos had their own merits and detriments and they equally fulfilled the brief, as well as reflected the path so far traveled. From the beginning of the project it was made clear that many interested parties, on our client’s end, would be involved and their opinions heard. So it wasn’t a surprise when a few weeks were spent on circulating the contending logos. What did come as a surprise was the result of that merry go round: We received an e-mail with a PowerPoint attachment titled Logo_Compromise.ppt. Our collective double-clicking fingers trembled at what awaited us once we opened the file.

As you may have already imagined, the file — the result of conversations, discussions and agreements of the aforementioned interested parties — showed a spliced graphic of the two logos, creating one new logo. Of course, the gut reaction is to be offended by something like this, a Frankenstein. The nerve! After the initial shock, we looked at the PowerPoint file, in all its blotchiness… and the combination of the two logos made perfect sense. We redrew the logo, tightened the typography, selected the PMS colors and sent it back for more circulation. After extremely thorough deliberation, involving literally dozens of screenings of the logo (and other elements of the identity), it was finally approved. We were happy, they were happy. It took two or three months to get to this point and it was a consistent back-and-forth between us and our direct clients, and between them and a myriad of constituents with opinions that were logged in a lengthy Word document — many of which we had to address. In other words, it was designed by committee.

Those three little words, a simple description of a common process, turn into venom when uttered by designers. When critiquing any kind of design project — but specifically identities — saying that “it looks as if it was designed by committee” is the ultimate offense, making it clear that the result is not up to the critic’s own design standards. Or, possibly, meaning that the designers were defenseless against the tasteless wrath of design-illiterate clients — begotten by their significant others’ love of the color blue — with the sole intention of watering down the design through bad decisions and lack of understanding of how much more effective Mrs. Eaves is at 9 pts. than at 11 pts, who don’t respect the professional advice of a graphic designer, but are happy to bring in more and more account executives and marketing senior vice presidents to make decisions hovering around what they think their boss wants… which is usually the opposite, anyway. Whatever the insinuation, one thing is certainly clear, “design by committee” is never meant as a compliment. Too bad for us designers, since the majority of the work we do is initiated, executed, resolved and troubleshot through collaboration with our clients, who, as a single individual or a group of vested folks make up committees.

If your vision of a career in graphic design does not involve clients and you have the resources to maintain a sustainable practice of self-initiated projects then you don’t have to worry about committees. Lucky you. Otherwise, your work life hinges on the rapport and dynamic between you and any given committee. Mythically, the committee is the evil association of people sarcastically portrayed in the previous paragraph, faceless drones that eat away at good graphic design like termites at yummy wood. Realistically, they are the group of people you work with, to varying degrees of involvement, from the start of a project until the end. Whether they are note-takers, brand managers, vice presidents or CEOs, they are the people that you talk to and e-mail with, they are the ones that brief you on the project and sit through the presentations of your work, they are responsible for informing your process and ensuring that the work is beneficial to their organization… they are the ones you celebrate with once the project is completed. They are real and they make or break your days, weeks, months and years. And this is why using “designed by committee” as an insult or an explanation for poor work, even if meant as a joke, is detrimental to our profession, and perhaps an underlying thread of why graphic designers are less prone to be taken seriously — if we don’t respect the decisions made by those we work with, why would anyone want to respect ours?

When, by default, we assign fault to our clients, the committee, for not allowing us to do our most “creative” work, we are insinuating that they don’t know any better, and we do — that we are, indeed, better but the shortsighted fools would never notice our greatness. We are questioning their expertise and understanding of their client base. We are placing blame on their decisions and input — granted, sometimes good, sometimes bad — instead of taking responsibility for the work we do based on the feedback we receive from them. We are putting emphasis on the stylings of the finished product as opposed to the process that brought it there. We are forgetting that design is not about us, but about them. And we seem to neglect that everything we do is designed, to differing extents, by committee. No designer can claim to have done everything his or her way, and if they could, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to work with them. Graphic design can’t be practiced as a touchy-feely one way street where it’s our way or it’s a dead end. When we use the “committee” as a scapegoat for pointing out our profession’s failings we are rejecting the idea of graphic design as an inherently collaborative process. Unless we want to add Narcissism to our service offerings, we need to realize that committees shape, for better or for worse, the work we do. And any insult on them is an insult, above all, on us as we fail to honor the working relationship we establish consistently with our clients. So the next time you are ready to crack that “designed by committee” zinger, think about the people that you work with and allow you to do what you love.

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ARCHIVE ID 3600 FILED UNDER Discussion
PUBLISHED ON Jul.04.2007 BY Armin
WITH 43 COMMENTS
Comments
Mark A.’s comment is:

I'm guilty of it. Or I was, at one time. I always called it crap-by-committee and I loathed it too. But you have a point, Armin.

Right now I'm knee-deep in the fifth - no sixth - revision of a 50 foot long mural for a zoo.

They actually braced themselves for designer hysterics when the architect moved positions of the door, pillars and window thereby ruining all the positioned animals I'd so painstakingly placed. Their surprise grew when I just accepted the change and hunkered down to solve the new arrangement. It wasn't easy, but I think it was my new sense of gratefulness just to have large scale projects again. Having just finished some scary throat surgery, things like this looked surmountable. Hard work is just work and anybody in design who can't take the heat will never accomplish big things.

Yesterday, just before the holiday, they gave me the SEVENTH revision. (deep sigh) It would be totally unprofessional to whine and moan when animal experts tell me that a monkey's tail is too long or a komodo dragon is more greyish than brownish. It's not a fickled opinion but factual recommendation. If only they had gotten involved back at revision #2, I say to myself under my breath....

So I see your point.

On Jul.04.2007 at 10:01 AM
debbie millman’s comment is:

Spot on, Armin. Great post.

As I read this, I couldn't help but think "lucky you, at least you were dealing with "just" a committee!" Sometimes. when we are designing an identity that goes through market research, I feel that we are designing with an entire demographic.

On Jul.04.2007 at 12:04 PM
agrayspace’s comment is:

Great post. Reclaiming this bit of language would be a great thing.

For most intensive purposes, collaboration = comprimise. To me that is not a dirty word. It is the virtue of design and not an easy thing for a visionary designer to learn.

This is something I always try to communicate to students. That their unique artistic vision (while precious, unique and special) risks being relegated to the shadows unless they also cultivate the ability to create that brilliance even in the most difficult of circumstances (untrained eyes, egocentric committee members, endless revisions). That is the heart of the design practice.

The difference between designers and artists is that designers are accountable for something. We had better get used to it.

Next, I think we need to reclaim "polishing a turd". Because the individual that can do that is very special indeed.

On Jul.04.2007 at 01:02 PM
Christina W’s comment is:

It's a good point, but then what are we going to gripe about over beers after work? Complaining about your salespeople is fun, but you just can't do it forever... (sarcasm here)

Committees are as workable the sum of their parts. The biggest problem, imho, is when committees have internal indecision and you get caught in the middle. You need to do the extra pre-work work and make sure everyone is on board and the brief is nice and tight. Mm, tight briefs.

On Jul.04.2007 at 01:54 PM
Joe Clark’s comment is:

Another of Armin Vit’s litany of posts that do nothing but counter an assumed prevailing wisdom... unconvincingly. On last week’s episode, we learned why _Helvetica_ was merely “okay.” This week, we learn how “design by committee” and “working with clients” are two separate things.

I’ll alert the media.

On Jul.04.2007 at 06:24 PM
Sye’s comment is:

great post. i fall into this trap and fully intend to curb my committee slander. thanks.

On Jul.04.2007 at 08:14 PM
Erica F’s comment is:

This reminds me of an AIGA conference a few years back, where it was said, more or less, that if we want our opinions respected by our clients, we have to respect theirs in return. Food for thought.

We've all had a project (likely more than one) that got more diluted and muddy as the revisions passed. But it's valuable to recognize it can go the other way, and I'm glad Armin brought it up.

Two years ago I designed a logo that I thought was never going to be approved. However, each compromise and adjustment made the logo that much better, and in the end I think it may be the best identity I have ever created.

On Jul.05.2007 at 01:47 AM
Mark Notermann’s comment is:

We were happy, they were happy

All's well that ends well, right?

I really appreciate the story, and it's a much-needed perspective that gets short shift. Sometimes these committee problems aren't so successfully solved, and I think designers feel like they end up being pushed into a solution which is sub-par. Now there could be a lot of factors that can contribute to this—successful compromises require strong negotiating skills.

...both of the proposed logos had their own merits and detriments and they equally fulfilled the brief...

That must mean that there were clearly defined criteria to evaluate success, something that many committees can't always come to agree upon in the first place.

I'm not trying to undermine the validity of your post; I think its a great story and something we all can learn from. I'd love to know more about the process that came before the first round was ever presented.

Thanks,

On Jul.05.2007 at 04:35 AM
Mark A.’s comment is:

I still don't think design-by-committee is all THAT great. I can accept it. I can work and try and persuade the client that - say - round wheels work better on a bike than square ones, but in the end he/she gets their way. The Big Baby with the money always wins. It's not that it's impossible in the world of Photoshop manipulation, but these are only easy changes. Sometimes it's the Bataan-Death-March-thru-a-Bad-Idea. Ever have one of those? We all have horror stories...

On Jul.05.2007 at 07:57 AM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

Good points, Armin. Still, I have a hard time not recalling a line from David Ogilvy’s book Ogilvy On Advertising:

Search the parks in all your cities
You’ll find no statues of committees

There are shades of grey at work here.

Input on the front end from a committee can essential to getting a broad understanding of issues and problems being dealt with.

Feedback on the back end from that same group can also be very useful in refining a concept to better meet the established criteria.

Meddling from a completely different group who’s wormed its way into the decision-making process to politically derail the work of the established committee, is a nightmare you sometimes just can’t wake-up from.

Trust, honesty, open communication: if these qualities are at work between a committee and a designer, then the resulting design will reflect that.

Because committees inherently add chefs in the kitchen, however, it’s not always easy for the designer to keep everyone working on the same recipe. It’s a role of professionalism that many of us can get better at.

On Jul.05.2007 at 08:52 AM
Greg Scraper’s comment is:

I agree wholeheartedly, especially when your client/committee speaks with one voice, knows what they want, and doesn't change their mind every meeting.

But what about the other 90% of the time?

On Jul.05.2007 at 10:09 AM
Jason L.’s comment is:

I would love to provide narcissism as a service. I would be a total badass at that.

On Jul.05.2007 at 10:15 AM
diane witman’s comment is:

Working with clients is a relationship. A relationship requires a lot of give and take. Sometimes I wish I could just scream "It looks better at 9pt and all of the copy fits so perfectly, if I take it up to 11pt it'll really screw it up!" but instead I bite my tongue and say "Sure, we can try that for you" with a smile on my face.

As I read your post I couldn't help but think the same thought that creeps into my head when this issue is tearing at my sanity. My fiance is a mechanic, he doesn't have to listen to his customers say "Hmm...you should probably use 10W-30 instead of 10W-40" when it comes to their oil change. The people he does work for trust his opinions and value his honesty and good work. I always wonder, will I ever experience this feeling?

Although Graphic Designers are considered a service industry, we should not be treated as (in a CEO type of voice) "I'm paying them, so I should get what I want." So when will our judgment be valued? I don't ask my cable guy if he should be messing with those functions on my Comcast remote, I let him do his job that he was trained to do and I pay him for it. He knows what he is doing (most of the time).

So although I do agree with you Armin, those crazy thoughts will continue to creep into my head and I'll keep on taking suggestions and the clients will keep on giving them.

On Jul.05.2007 at 02:23 PM
Martin’s comment is:

Great column.

Agrayspace, I think you mean "For most INTENTS AND purposes..." I made this mistake for years.

On Jul.05.2007 at 05:07 PM
Samuel Sutanto’s comment is:

Even though I'm early on my Graphic Design career, I've stumbled upon this process several times. But you are absolutley right Armin. "Design is not about us, it's about them". Also, "if we don’t respect the decisions made by those we work with, why would anyone want to respect ours?"

On Jul.05.2007 at 05:16 PM
Brad Gutting’s comment is:

Excellent argument.

What separates the design and ad business from the businesses of most of our clients is that there's not really a formula or set routine that you can follow and find success. You're always doing something new (if you're good).

This is a logical extension of that. You can't expect the same thing repeatedly, there's very little "conventional wisdom" that sticks. And, to assume that client involvement with something they're paying for is horrible and awful is a bit short-sighted. It's understandable to feel that way, but yeah, not everyone's a moron.

The trick, I think, is working towards the best solution without compromising. Compromise, to me, is just a situation in which both parties lose. And then ask yourself if you'd *really* want every project to be like this...of course you would not.

I will quote Bob Barrie as well, because I think he makes an excellent point when he says that the greatest characteristic creative people can have is resilience. Just keep coming back with more. Good work. I'm glad that it came out well in the end.

On Jul.05.2007 at 05:40 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> As I read this, I couldn't help but think "lucky you, at least you were dealing with "just" a committee!"

Debbie... I can't even imagine. Actually, I can imagine, and I prefer not to anymore.

> I'd love to know more about the process that came before the first round was ever presented.

Mark, it wasn't anything out of the ordinary. A few conversations with the client and some of the more interested parties to be able to set some expectations. We did an initial round of logos that was broad (7, or 9, feasible executions) and touched a few extremes to see where the client felt comfortable going. We narrowed it down to 3 or 5, then did a little showing to some of the interested parties who narrowed it down to two and then we went into the loooooooong (apologies to Google) process I mentioned. And to be fair, not all the comments were helpful or advanced the process, but it's our (and everyone's) responsibility to take that and interpret into a workable solution.

> There are shades of grey at work here.

Daniel, yes, no doubt. As good as this project may sound it was, I've been involved in others where things end in the wrong places or simply never end because of the shades of gray turning darker.

> But what about the other 90% of the time?

You cry yourself to sleep : )
Kidding aside... I do agree that for the most part, committees steering a design is never the most affable way of doing things for designers, but I really believe that it is those hurdles that keep design interesting. If we get to do everything we want, the way we want, without certain "challenges" we are simply on auto pilot.

On Jul.05.2007 at 10:04 PM
Frank’s comment is:

Here's the major flaw that i see in Armin's post:

"Realistically, they are the group of people you work with.."

Nope.

Realistically, you as the designer most of times do *NOT* work with the whole group of people but with one or two representatives of your client company that are in charge for that.

The problem with design by commitee is that most of the people that have their say on the matter are the ones you as the designer rarely or never see, let alone have spoken to.In some cases DBC can even mean polls amongst all of the staff.

So the issue with DBC is *of course* not about not "them" picking your most "creative" concept nor is it about working one way street or "client hate" or something like that.

It's simply a situation where people decide over a concept that you as a designer had not the chance to talk to or that have limited information/knowledge about the foregoing process.
It means that *although* there was a process and research and all which you developed and worked on *together* with the "in charge of" people from your client the final decision is STILL made on factors based on everything BUT your process.Be it "John prefers blue", "The pizza guy doesn't like circles" etc etc.

So often it's really not about you wanting to be the wise guy but that actually not all stakeholders that have an influence on the final decision were included in the process or not all of them have the same level of information about the project but still their voices have the same weight in the decision making.

On Jul.05.2007 at 10:31 PM
Frank’s comment is:

I just realized i could have said it shorter:

Design by commitee might not be that much of a big problem as long as "the commitee" is involved in the process from beginning to the end.

Trouble starts when only a portion of them are included but the decision is made by the FULL commitee nevertheless.

On Jul.05.2007 at 10:37 PM
James’s comment is:

"The process" is what can make DBC painful or painless.

It goes well when people who are on the same page, and share agreement about its purpose and focus, contribute with that in mind.

It goes poorly when people step in uninvited and stomp on what has gone before, effectively pissing on the work of others, rather than building on it.

In the example you gave, people who may or may not have had a design background "saw something" in the work you'd done, and believed it made for a greater whole, and proposed that "without" twisting a knife into your back at the same time. Plus, they were open to further refinement.

DBC can work when it is collaborative and respectful of the time and talents involved. But when one insecure middle manager gets involved late in the process and needs their thumbprint on it, look out!

On Jul.06.2007 at 09:55 AM
Chris3Dogz’s comment is:

I think defining WHO the committee is, makes a huge difference. In your case, you obviously had clear direction from the get go, which is why both marks were based on the same premise. BUT, in a lot of cases, committees we deal with are people who haven't clearly defined what they want, OR all the answers we were given when trying to define what the clients wants/needs were completely off the mark (pun intended!). Then the committee grows to include sales people or others pushing their own agendas. THEN it get's shown to the final decision maker who hates everything and asks why they're working with morons. Working directly with final decision makers is key to the committee's success or failure, and is the difference between "design by committee" being an evil phrase or a collaboration of success.

I agree whole-heartedly in working WITH your client to achieve the best results. But making sure the right people are seeing things at the right time is also key...something that rarely happens.

Chris

On Jul.06.2007 at 11:28 AM
Christina W’s comment is:

The pizza guy doesn't like circles! Ha ha! Is he sick of pizzas?

On Jul.06.2007 at 03:21 PM
Paige’s comment is:

Hogwash.
We are trained professionals, and should be treated as such. If several businessmen take turns fiddling with your design, and the end result is a genuine improvement, you're in the wrong field. Teamwork can yield unexpected benefits, but the best work is invariably the result of unadulterated vision. Keep playing the yes-man, and watch as our field steadily loses its soul. But those of us who put design above business will keep fighting.

On Jul.06.2007 at 04:46 PM
pi skyy’s comment is:

We are trained professionals…the best work is invariably the result of unadulterated vision.

Some of Paige's unadulterated visions:

http://www.graphicsworkshop.net/logos.jpg

On Jul.06.2007 at 07:47 PM
David E.’s comment is:

I was going to say that all designers understand that design is a collaboration with their clients, but Paige proved me wrong. Well, all the ones I've ever met do at least. I've been in this business for over 10 years, and I couldn't count the number of times that clients' suggestions/demands have improved my work. There are many ways work can be made better, and often they have nothing to do with aesthetics. There's no such thing as putting design above business – design is business.

The problem I see with many designers is that they have no solid rationale for the work they're doing, and thus no way of selling it or defending it. These designers end up acting like order-takers. "OK, hold the pickles, and you want fries with that. Got it." They're the ones who probably use the phrase "design by committee" the most – out of resentment.

On Jul.07.2007 at 02:19 AM
Kevin M. Scarbrough’s comment is:

Paige, I respectfully disagree with your comments wholeheartedly.

I do not see the committee's involvement in this specific incidence as a reduction, because the end result works. The case isn't a matter of a member, or a group of them, suddenly pulling a brand new logo from the ether that rivaled anything Armin or his team had previously shown -- they had the benefit of watching all the work be done, of all the coordination, all the concepting, all of the explanations as to why various elements worked, and saw the executions become narrowed down. They, quite literally, just saw one last connection not previously made.

And it apparently their suggestion worked. Splendid! A better mark, everyone wins!

A good idea is a good idea, be it from the CEO, the highly paid consultant, or the cleaning crew. It would be a serious error to continually go to said cleaning crew with every project you have in mind, but to close your mindset to your own vision is going to greatly limit the possibilities for inspiration. I will certainly grant you that if you are continually going to your client and saying "Hey what should I do next?" that you are in the wrong industry, but to blow a career out of the water because someone else had a good idea for once is saying that designers own the world of design, and all the inspiration that comes within.

Typically, designers want their clients to be design-savy, to understand what we are doing and to respect our profession, to have an active and intelligent role in the process to ensure the highest caliber of work is produced. And when this happens for once, we slam it to pieces?

In "Make it Bigger", Paula Scher tells a story about Michael Beirut explaining type to a client. “This is Times Roman. It is a serif typeface. It has little feet.” If you treat a client as an enemy, they will become an enemy. If you treat them with respect and educate them, you have a better chance of receiving the same.

On Jul.07.2007 at 04:39 AM
erica frye’s comment is:

Sometimes, implementing client ideas isn't about rolling over and allowing something awful. In the original case, a modification was suggested and it ended up being a great solution. That is not a compromise; it's collaboration.

I have little doubt that if it had been awful, Armin's team would have had a discussion with the client about what they liked about the hybrid. Based on this input, the creative team would have gone back and developed their own alternative design that met the needs of the clients but was still good. Voila!

There have been questions about process, and I thought I'd offer my two cents on a pre-identity strategy that works well for me. First, we establish their core brand attributes and personality descriptors, which is pretty standard procedure. Then, we look at a bunch of existing marks to feel out their (highly subjective) preferences and hot buttons. This also identifies the kind of mark they want so I don't commit to a fee until we do this.

After that, we explore a list of visual terms (bold, soft, organic, structured) they like and dislike, and talk about which of the marks they think match the words they chose. This establishes a common vocabulary -- we can say "sophisticated" but if my idea of that is a Barcelona chair and yours is a gilded Louis XV settee, then I need to know that or else I'll crash and burn.

Based on this whole package of information, I write up a narrative, inspirational brief outlining the brand essence, logo requirements, and desired style. They have to sign this before I start. Sure, things may change as we go along, but I find this process helps get them not only focused, but really excited, too.

And, yes, a good idea can come from anywhere.

On Jul.07.2007 at 03:56 PM
Jandos Rothstein’s comment is:

I interviewed George Lois a while back. His term for it was "group grope."

Committees are great for idea generation, but they are of limited value when it comes to idea certification—particularly if the committee was formed for that purpose and was not involved from the beginning of the process. It need not be a designer, but one, or at most two people have to filter the value of the sometimes-contradictory objectives and ideas that emerge from an approval committee. It's when designers (or writers or what have yous) are forced to incorporate incongruent goals into a single solution—and that happens all the time—that the group approach becomes detrimental.

On Jul.07.2007 at 11:40 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

they are of limited value when it comes to idea certification—particularly if the committee was formed for that purpose and was not involved from the beginning of the process.

As opposed to working with a single individual who was not involved in the process but showed up at the last minute to approve the result?

It's when designers (or writers or what have yous) are forced to incorporate incongruent goals into a single solution—and that happens all the time—that the group approach becomes detrimental.

But incorporating incongruent goals of a range of stakeholders is easy if you just don’t invite any of them to the meeting?

On Jul.08.2007 at 01:44 PM
Keenan’s comment is:

I've learned that sometimes non-designers and even other designers just don't see things the way I do. I don't mean to sound condescending, but if the design layman/layperson don't get it, then the design is not working. Of course they can be irrational at times, but if the design doesn't communicate what it is meant to communicate, maybe it's not as good as we thought.

PS- Sometimes hangin' out with clients can be nice. I like clients I can go to dinner with.

On Jul.08.2007 at 06:32 PM
Bryony’s comment is:

Varying thoughts as far as “designed by/with committee” are pondered on above. What I don’t see is the internal committee being mentioned or acknowledged. Few design in a vacuum, and long before the client committee sees the work, there is the design team doing the exact same thing. We slice and dice and move and shove and combine and change, we suggest and rearrange the work in the same manner the client will once he sees the presentation. Why is it so acceptable that our internal committee do the same as the client? Are we the only ones allowed to to so, because we went to Design School?

The same internal dialogue should be expected and created with the client. It is about the combination of ideas, by listening to each other that the best work can be achieved. And before you say that this is the road towards doom, and that work created by compromise is trash, consider the benefits of interaction. In the same way that Greek philosophers worked on an idea, designers and clients can pursue the answer to their “problem”. Each party brings value, and when we are able to recognize that value and take advantage of it, we are then able to produce quality work.

Am I an idealist? Maybe.
Have I managed to do the above? Yes.
More than once? Yes.
Then I know it is possible, and I search for it with every client.

On Jul.09.2007 at 12:48 PM
art chantry’s comment is:

seems silly to say this (especially me, of all people), but it'a about money. a client can actually BUY the right to totally ruin a design (by committee or otherwise). it costs a lot, but they are allowed to do it. it's one of the rules.

note: when i say"a lot", i mean "A LOT".

On Jul.09.2007 at 03:35 PM
Peter Buchanan-Smith’s comment is:

The question is: does a client really pay me to compromise with the committee? to fight the committee? to massage the committee? to hold hands with the committee? Likewise, do they pay me to ram my vision down committee throats? even in the loving arms of the most perfect client, any of the above might be expected of me. Understandably a client wants the best design, they want to make more money, be promoted, be proud of your collective work, not annoyed, or hassled that this guy can’t work with their committee. I don’t think clients really care how I go about my process, and this means they expect me to deal with everything, and anything that’s thrown in my lap (committees included). we need not be afraid of the committee, we need to be in control of our respective place in it (even if that means controlling it), and in the end pull through for our clients and our selves, our visions—that’s what we’re being paid for.

On Jul.10.2007 at 10:57 AM
art chantry’s comment is:

over my long and sordid history, i've worked with more horrible committees than you can shake a stick at (or beat with a stick). try a committee of 30 hippie activists for while and see how long it takes you to commit murder. committees are an unfortunate part of our cultural mindset. it's the "team spirit/player" thought at work that is considered so capable by the harvard mba's. it's sports thought as culture. and it produces unifromly bad results in design. all that is without question.

however, i've learned that there are a gazillion (to quote our brave president) ways to manipulate and control a committee. it takes an enormous amount of time and years of practice, but committees are not the end of the world for design. they can work. it's not 100%, but success can frequently be achieved in committee. you gotta be smart and you gotta be a player and you gotta be willing to work with the raw materials (aka- committee members). it's more like babysitting than design.

most of the work i've created has been guided through committees of one sort or another. precious few of the peiecs in my portfolio is free of group think. to get technical, all design is group think (aka - we all work with clients). design is NOT art. it is NOT muse-driven mumblings of a private genius. design is a collaborative form. to deny that is to miss the point of what we do.

so, committees are here to stay, and they'll become more commonplace as time goes on. deal with it.

On Jul.10.2007 at 01:47 PM
Peter Esko’s comment is:

I find Bryony's comments to be an interesting take to this, and find that to a certain extent we could lay a certain amount of the blame onto the schooling that we received.

Rarely if ever did projects in design school leave the isolation of a project, ane they never dealt with a client (or non design professional) review or the pseudo precursor to design by committee.

I'm not trying to say that students should be thrown into design by committee as a regular exercise, but some sort of preparation for this sort of situation could be beneficial and end some of complaints of the client holding back creativity.

Understandably design by committee is perhaps not the ideal situation, however the notion that we design in a happy little design bubble certainly seems to stem from schooling. I know it surprised me when I left school for my first position.

On Jul.10.2007 at 06:23 PM
g-sppud’s comment is:

Very interesting points here. It seems as though we all should know that design by committee is the way it is, and really has been since the birth of our profession. We provide a service to the client, and are paid to solve their problems with graphic solutions. The client expects (as we would, were the situation reversed) to be involved in the process they are paying for.

Design by committee is often difficult because we are usually dealing with people who do not understand principles of design, and have a hard time verbally expressing their "vision." It is also difficult, as tough skinned as we might think we become, when someone poo-poos our work. We all have pride in what we do, and we all have egos (as much as we would like to deny them) that get bruised. The best we can do is initially stand behind our work and make a strong case as to how our solution solves the client's problem. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't. Whatever the outcome - let the revisions begin!

It's hard and it sucks, but with each difficult situation we become better at what we do. To take out design by committee (internal or external), in my opinion, is to take one out of the profession. When you design only what you want you become more of a fine artist as opposed to a graphic designer.

On Jul.11.2007 at 01:25 PM
Paige’s comment is:

Okay, so my comments were extreme- point taken. I actually agree with much of what's being said here. I just thought the discussion was getting a little too one-sided, so I "stirred the pot" a bit. Pi Skyy: Thanks for the exposure, but why not share your own wonderful work? Kevin, I wasn't referring to Armin's particular scenario, just commenting on a subtle mood of surrender here. Any designer understands that collaboration is necessary, but few ever stand up for the expertise of the designer. Committees may never go away, but that doesn't mean we always have to love them. It means we need to know how to navigate through them.
By the way, I love "Make It Bigger"- and you'll find it contains many not-so-subtle jabs at committees.

On Jul.12.2007 at 10:52 AM
art chantry’s comment is:

i realize that in response to my first remark just above, peter buchannan-smith (and i assume others) sorta missed my point. when i said that clients pay to ruin a design (especially by committee) i was actually referring to the fact that a lousy committee design will never work well (or easily/chaeply) and will eventually have to be re-designed (and likely not by you, either - "the designer who screwed it up the first time"). so, they pay a LOT to ruin a good design.

so, the point of my comment was actually the old maxim: "either pay for it now or pay for it later". if you ever really point this stuff out to clients, it amazes you how closely they will listen. the bottom line is that they are businessmen trying to make money. wasting money is bad for business. they listen to that. when you deal with clients you have to talk to them in their language. when in rome...

On Jul.12.2007 at 02:54 PM
art chantry’s comment is:

ps - and in all honesty, if a client pays me an enormous amount of money and then insists on making everything dayglo pink drawings of his kids, well.... i smile and say,"yessir." frankly, when the risk of loosing that enormous amount of money stares me in the eye, i usually blink. i know that's not my reputation, but i have to survive, too.

ya see, i'm basically a businessman, too. i listen to money talk, even from an arrogant silly client-type insisting on a lousy design.

On Jul.12.2007 at 03:00 PM
Mark A.’s comment is:

What's worse is a PSYCHO arrogant silly client-type who just can't seem to find the VERY WORST lousy design possible....

As he and I descend into the lower circles of Design Hades together I almost wonder if the money is worth it...of course, it always is.

On Jul.14.2007 at 12:18 PM
Yael’s comment is:

To quote art, "either pay for it now or pay for it later". if you ever really point this stuff out to clients, it amazes you how closely they will listen. the bottom line is that they are businessmen trying to make money. wasting money is bad for business. they listen to that. when you deal with clients you have to talk to them in their language.

Clients need to hear what we have to say, as it relates to the bottom line. The better you as a designer understand that, the better you will be able to 'make the case' when the time comes - committee or not.

On Jul.15.2007 at 12:22 AM
Andrew’s comment is:

I've never had problems with committees. If there is a group of people in a room when I make my presentation and there is a democratic review of the concepts where the majority opinion wins that works fine. The problem is when one individual with too much say becomes obsessed with "tweaking" the design because it just isn't quite perfect yet and completely ignores all the feedback we got from the committee, marketing people, focus groups...

On Aug.06.2007 at 12:20 AM
Sean O'Dwyer’s comment is:

Just came across this article via the reprint in February’s HOW Magazine. Not sure what it says about my abilities as a graphic designer but I’ve never designed something that wasn’t improved by client input. Well, all right, not every time, but a whole lot of times, and certainly enough times that I have lasting faith in the client-designer relationship.

Some of my clients respond well to micro-lessons in design and allow themselves to be led away from design blunders; mutual respect and good humor go a long way. I also have clients who are well versed in design and who simply nod at my comps or ask for only slight adjustments. (Having a solid research and concepting process before I do anything in Photoshop means we’re usually on the same page, more or less, from an early stage.) I have a client who likes to pick her own PMS colors and I've seen no reason to override her choices yet. I have a color-blind client who loves my work, is great fun to work with and gives excellent feedback on everything I do. Lucky me.

I only have one client who insists on art directing my work and he’s the One Man Committee From Hell. The “tweaks” come thick and fast (make it blue, move it over three pixels) as do the contradictions (no, make it red, move it back). But this guy is clueless about a lot more than just design: his organization—much to my dismay, because they’re trying to promote something I believe in—has been slouching towards nowhere for years. Sigh. What can a boy do? The stereo goes to eleven. The billable hours mount up.

I think the key word in Armin’s article is rapport. With some clients, you can argue your point and, a lot of the time, even win it; clients are, after all, paying for your professional opinion. With others, you do your best—and then start coasting downhill in neutral with Neil Diamond on the radio.

I’ve found I’ve been able to insulate myself quite a bit from committeeitis—which can be spectacularly harmful if separate organizational departments are involved—by forcing the client to appoint a single project contact. It’s not always possible but the basic ida is to push the census taking, note sorting, and contradiction detanglification back on the client. That is, a lot of committee-driven design and be headed off at the pass if you set up clear ground rules at the outset.

On Dec.17.2007 at 10:06 PM