Monday, August 7, 2006

Too many Cooks?

Recently I came across this article featuring comments on the 2006 world cup logo by renowned designer Erik Spiekermann. In the article, Spiekermann faults the design team responsible for the logo with trying to communicate too many messages.

It reminded me of the challenges that often arise via design by committee. Design by committee is a wry term referring to a situation that can happen when a group of entities comes together to produce something. The end results are typically less-than-stellar. You wind up with an end product that everybody can live with, rather than communications that command attention and drive home the desired point(s).

Similar to Howard Halaska’s previous post touting the benefit of a singular message in forming your strategy, design by committee can lead to less-than-stellar creative characterized by:

  • Needless complexity
  • Internal inconsistency
  • Banality (remember the TV show "Friends?")
  • Lack of a unifying vision

It is true that we seldom have the luxury of being the one and only person with input into what is being created. Bosses, co-workers, neighbors, clients, family members, etc. want to put in their 2 cents worth. And when some of them are footing the bill, we have to listen.

So how can we avoid producing work that appears to have been designed by committee?

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Select a "voice" for the committee—a person who is acutely aware of the group’s goals and has a good sense of design.

  2. Try to create an environment that is open to feedback and input, but ultimately let the experts make the decisions and control the design—design is about function as much as form, and suggestions to change one aesthetic thing or another can have a huge impact on the cohesion of the design.

  3. Limit the size of the committee—fewer participants means clearer communication, less room for interpretation from one person to another, and better attention to the task at hand. Note that keeping the committee small doesn’t mean forgoing input from others in the organization; it just means not everyone who provides input will have equal weight in terms of their vote. The committee’s job is then to consider and incorporate the input that comes from inside and outside the committee.

  4. Let the design team operate outside of the traditional organizational framework—recognize that the design process is far different from the other things happening in the organization and give it the space and opportunity to succeed. Treating design like just another corporate function will stifle its success.

If you need proof of the success achieved when avoiding design by committee, look to the origin of one the world’s most recognized symbols.

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