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Why Design By Committee Should Die

No matter where you go in the known universe, there is design-by-committee. It has become a pecking order of disaster for the society that used to pride itself on being a mover and shaker and that allowed its mavericks and dreamers to innovate their way to success.

design by committee

In a business climate fueled by fear and the “Peter Principle,” as it is today, a decision not made is a tragedy averted. So, decision by committee provides a safe and often anonymous process for finger-pointing down the line… inevitably leading to the creative, of course.

Further Reading on SmashingMag: Link

Why It Happens Link

Wikipedia describes it4 thus: The Peter Principle is the principle that “in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.” It was formulated by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their 1969 book The Peter Principle, a humorous treatise which also introduced the “salutary science of Hierarchiology”, “inadvertently founded” by Peter. It holds that in a hierarchy, members are promoted so long as they work competently.

Sooner or later they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent (their “level of incompetence”), and there they remain, being unable to earn further promotions. This principle can be modeled and has theoretical validity. Peter’s Corollary states that “in time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out his duties” and adds that “work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.

Whether on staff or freelance, we all walk into meetings prepared for our work to be torn to shreds. And it always is. The client sits there trying to explain to you how a logo the size of a small melon should sit on a 9×12-inch ad.

Our core competency is in creating something that is the perfect communication vehicle for the given message. But then subjectivity walks in the door, and the creative is left standing there, looking like an incompetent who needs a committee to complete their work.

Others Have Noticed Its Effects Link

Michael Arrington, founder and co-editor of TechCrunch, a blog covering Silicon Valley technology, and a widely respected and influential person on the Web, recently wrote5:

There’s a saying I love: “a camel is a horse designed by committee.” A variation is “a Volvo is a Porsche designed by committee.” Some of the best product advice I’ve ever heard goes something like “damn what the users want, charge towards your dream.” All of these statements are, of course, saying the same thing. When there are too many cooks in the kitchen all you get is a mess. And when too many people have product input, you’ve got lots of features but no soul.

Through it all, I’ve heard some wondrous and magical statements come from the mouths of non-creatives as they “join in on the fun” of designing in these dreaded committee meetings.

My favorite exchange to date happened in a meeting that a secretary sat in to take notes but who eventually took over the conversation. I looked at her and then the art director, who sat sheepishly quiet (from too many emotional beatings, no doubt), and asked why a secretary would be allowed to give design feedback. She pulled herself up in her chair and said, “Well, you do want this to be the best product it can be?”

“The best it can be.” She was somehow convinced that her opinion overshadowed all others, including those of the art staff. In her mind, she was actually saving the design. Stories like this abound.

You’re Not The Only One Link

Wanting to feel I was not alone, I posed the question to the art directors among my umpteen connections on LinkedIn. The responses were varied, passionate and maddening at times. One of my favorite Los Angeles art directors gave me a list of her favorite sayings overheard in committee meetings:

My wife wants more circles.

My husband says it doesn’t hit him in the gut.

My kids say there are too many words.

My dog didn’t wag its tail.

The waiter said he’s seen something just like that in France.

I need more oopmh 
in it.

I’ll know it when I see it. So go back and make more.

I love what _____ did. Can you do the same, but with carrots?

What are you doing after work?

The next respondent to my question asked, “Did you forget to take your meds today?” Another chimed in, “I don’t want to give you any stories because I don’t want to cry!”

One creative director added these: “Why isn’t my logo bigger?”, “Why can’t we use all of this empty space over here?” and “It’s too promotional”. He adds: “
Anything from anyone who’s ever said, ‘I’m not creative, but…’ or ‘It needs more… something.’ And anything from anyone who ‘knows what they don’t want but has to actually see what they do want because they can’t describe/direct/vocalize it.”

Plenty of responses advised us to let go and just take the fee and do whatever the client or committee wants. This is a “service industry” after all. One graphic designer wrote:

One thing I try to do is understand why certain decisions have been made, and I do this by questioning the person doing the direction (this could be a colleague, sales person, client, etc.). If that person has legitimate reasons for asking for specific things, and they can back up that it will work, I’d like to know.

Another voice added, “He who pays calls the tune, even if they’re wrong, and even if they have poor taste. That is important to keep in mind.”

As much as I agree, there is still that voice inside me that screams bloody murder at the idiocracy of group decisions. Feeling the same way, an art director in Texas wrote, “The client may pay for the work, but who takes the blame when the client campaign fails miserably because the client did not listen to the advice of the designer?”

Who Should Ultimately Decide? Link

For better or worse, I agree with another passage in Mr. Arrington’s article:

Product should be a dictatorship, not consensus-driven. There are casualties, hurt feelings, angry users. But all of those things are necessary if you’re going to create something unique. The iPhone is clearly a vision of a single core team, or maybe even one man. It happened to be a good dream, and that device now dominates mobile culture. But it’s extremely unlikely Apple would have ever built it if they conducted lots of focus groups and customer outreach first. No keyboard? Please.

He also illustrates his point6 brutally with this hard fact:

Digg is sort of on the opposite end of the spectrum. The company has been standing still now for years as Facebook, Twitter and others have run laps around it. But the company is famous for listening to its hard core fanatical users.

My point is best made through the brilliant, funny, intelligent Better Off Ted. In one adventure, the corporation empowers everyone to make decisions about products in committee. See what happens to the simple product. The always classic “Process (aka Designing the Stop Sign)7” is another frightening example soaked in truth.

Marketing aims to create consumer interest in goods and services based on the assumption that the target consumer is buying a lifestyle or habit, with some income, location and loyalty considerations thrown in. It draws from information about the target demographic; however, personal preferences about color, type size, logos and so on do not represent those of the target demographic. One person on a committee might be a target consumer, but certainly not the committee as a whole. Should people from disparate demographics second-guess the visual approach taken by the designer to the target consumer?

Mr. Arrington believes that the plan trumps all voices. His article ends with a very assertive video about winners and losers. Most creatives choose to let it wash over them and collect their pay check. I suppose I don’t agree because I haven’t seen many pay checks made out to “Dance, monkey, dance!”

What’s The Solution? Link

From all the responses and stories, it seems there are few ways to live with the design-by-committee lifestyle. Suggesting what a marketing plan or piece of copy is missing or implying that the secretary is unable to spell will only get you pegged as “difficult” and make you appear as though you “overstep boundaries.” Asking a non-creative who gives you excruciating input why they think you’re incapable of doing your job will brand you as “defensive” and “combative.” Give in, and you’ll earn descriptions like “flexible” and “easy to direct.”

The sensible answer is to listen, absorb, discuss, be able to defend any design decision with clarity and reason, know when to pick your battles and know when to let go.

A photographer I know once said, “I’ll give the model a big mole on her face, and the committee focuses on that and are usually satisfied with the momentous change of removing it and leave everything else as is.”

Whether you’re on staff or freelance, the political dance of correctness and cooperation brings a new story and new experience every day. And isn’t that one of the great things about this business… even if it goes around and around sometimes? You can just blame someone using the new buzzword, “Commidiot,” which is a committee member who has no idea what is going on in front of them but feels they have to say something of importance to justify their presence in the room.


Footnotes Link

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Speider Schneider is a former member of The Usual Gang of Idiots at MAD Magazine, “among other professional embarrassments and failures.” He currently writes for local newspapers, blogs and other web content and has designed products for Disney/Pixar, Warner Bros., Harley-Davidson, ESPN, Mattel, DC and Marvel Comics, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon among other notable companies. Speider is a former member of the board for the Graphic Artists Guild, co-chair of the GAG Professional Practices Committee and a former board member of the Society of Illustrators. He also continues to speak at art schools across the United States on business and professional practices and telling frightening stories that make students question their career choice (just kidding).

  1. 1

    Leah Sidwell

    June 29, 2010 5:58 am

    This is a great article. Being an in-house designer can be a never-ending nightmare because of the Peter Principle. It makes me want to go into the office of the CFO and says, “Wait, how about we move more money into that account, I like it there.” If the budget is decided only by those who understand it then why is design a free-for-all?

    • 2

      I’ll tell ya, as a designer, I agree with you. But one thing I’ve learned when working on team projects, is that the input of “non-designers” can sometimes be very valuable. They’ll often, unknowingly, interpret the creative as the end-user would. And that can be really helpful to aligning design with strategy.

    • 3

      I think the answer to your question would be ‘because while relatively few people will claim they understand the ebb and flow of finance, MOST will claim they ‘know what they like’…..

      most folks will simply scratch their heads when asked something like ‘should the added income from our surplus supply account be added to our fiscal yada yada yada?’….

      however…show them a logo, and all of them will say ‘make it bigger’…

      • 4

        All great points, which is why I love the discussion on the article. I think people learn more from their peers. Sharing is how we make a united front for our creative profession. If we are all “on the same page” there will be fewer arguments an rational about why we are the Devil’s spawn…which I enjoy, actually!

        It is very true that an untrained eye, for lack of a better description, can spot things we take for granted. One reason the age of distressed type was short-lived. We loved it but nobody could read it. Looked beautiful but took too long for the average person to decipher. Yes, there are still plenty of usage around, but I’m the king of distressed type and there’s a lot of dead fonts. Deader than Brush Script…all upper case! Some opinions have merit and some are just babble. Differentiate between them and you do make a better product.

        Thanks for reading and responding!

      • 5

        Great post Spieder, both in itself and in the wealth of helpful anecdotes shared in the comments. I’m going to note many of the hard-earned lessons from peers for future dealings with client presentations myself.

        Regarding the finance vs. advertising issue that Leah, Tyson, and others commented on, I think the root problem is that the ubiquity of advertising creates familiarity, and familiarity creates the illusion of qualification. But how to delicately point out the difference between exposure and expertise–there’s the rub.

  2. 6

    This article has forced me to return to bed for the remainder of the day. No not really, but it has definitely given me a nice reminder of the Bull$%*# that I deal with every day.

    Great article. I’m thinking about printing 120 copies of this article and handing them out to every client of mine. Of course I could email them, but I want to see their faces as they read the article.

    Go Smash…

    • 7

      The aggravation of today become the articles and novels of tomorrow. Just wait for my novel on the behind the scenes hilarity at major corporations. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll commit suicide! Well, maybe just two of those.

      I dare you to give those to clients! I triple-dog-dare-you! ;)

      Thanks for reading and responding!

      • 8

        Maybe just two of those?

        …you mean the last two?

        …why yes, I do work for a big corporation, how could you tell…

  3. 9

    i didn’t even get the idea what this article is about- im so clueless.. what is it..

    • 10

      It’s about 2,700 words long. Are you one of my friends playing a trick on me? I will find you!

  4. 11

    This is a stupid and whiny article.
    You need to be able to speak TWO LANGUAGES, that of Art and design, and that of the common man, YOUR EMPLOYER.

    Anyone who has a craft and works directly to the user, it always has been thus.
    The wailings uttered (and endorsed here) are those of incompetents.
    To succeed, your skill is to be more than manipulating pixels and light sources, it is manipulating PEOPLE. Seen the simple add that just JUMPS at you? that made you want to buy what it was selling, or believe what it was preaching or hate what it was deriding?

    The customer comments, tho inelegant, though unframed in our friendly jargon of Ems, and CYMK and color palettes are nonetheless words of gold, ignored at your petulant peril.

    “A photographer I know once said, “I’ll give the model a big mole on her face, and the committee focuses on that and are usually satisfied with the momentous change of removing it and leave everything else as is.”

    That is certainly one psychological ploy and there are many others. LEARN THEM. USE THEM. Stop whining about things wholly under your control like little bitches.
    Examine the psychology of your opposition. WHY are they doing this?
    Is it because you scheduled (or had scheduled) this meeting @ 4pm on a Friday?

    What if you ‘splurged’ on a box of donuts?

    What if you noticed a white skin area on somebodies ring finger? what does that tell you? BE AWARE, you may be working with computers, but you get paid-and sell to- PEOPLE. Know your medium, and manipulate just like clay and watercolors!

    • 12

      Ok I’ll bite…

      I believe as a reader you’ve definitely under appreciated the article’s point and like a typical *commidiot* reaction shot it down because you have your view. Of course, you essentially are the target.

      This article is far from whining. It brings to conclusion the exact paradox that most designers face with their work against such a group and have to admit the best I’ve read so far.

      Mind you I’m not denouncing your own opinion either, as what you say is in part true, it seems like whenever there’s a design article regarding clients it tends to always morph into a rant from the writer. However, not this one, this brings into light facts that are worth noting (and a good piece of advice worth remembering).

      Touching on the point of shaping and molding your clients – even with the mere power of suggestion, there are absolute *commidiots* out there that do not care what you say or believe regarding their ideas for which their company pays you to produce.

      By the end of the day… there’s a decision maker in that committee – there is a leader. Work with them closely if you can… Get them on your side and it may make the project a whole lot more manageable.

    • 13

      @Steve –

      I appreciate your response and was hoping for an opposing viewpoint to add to the discussion. If you would be so kind, I would love to engage you in a friendly discussion so the readers can see what other opinions are and understand those opinions.

      Are you a creative or work with creatives?

      Why is it you believe a creative cannot speak the “two languages” as you described?

      Yes, the work is for the employer, but has everyone on a committee an “employer?” Certainly on a staff position, does everyone in the room become an “employer?”

      Yes, there is a psychology to dealing with other people. I have suggested reading up on the subject as there are many fine books and articles on people politics.

      I have no idea what you are talking about with the donuts and wedding ring but I would love to discuss your other points and please, watch the insults and keep it professional.

      Thanks for reading and responding!

    • 14

      I agree with Steve. The mark of a good designer or art director, is someone who can ask the right questions, and then integrate the clients needs and wants into the piece. I NEVER design something that I wouldn’t want in my portfolio. I work at finding the right solution that works for them, but is still elegant enough for my tastes. One of the first things I learned is to never design something that you don’t like, or with a “mistake” on it. You’ll only make yourself look bad, or end up spending time designing something you hate. If the client hates orange, find a way to NOT use it. If they love poodles, well, find a way to illustrate the poodle so that YOU like it too.

      I used to work in-house for an AD who said other designers always complained that she got the best projects to work on. She said it wasn’t that she got the best projects to start with, but because she MADE them into the best projects SHE could. Isn’t that the mark of a great designer? Someone who can take the worst project assignment and make it into something amazing…even with the client’s interaction or committee.

      • 15

        Interesting point with a lot of validity but did the art director have more pull in committee to defend design decisions? It also sounds as if the art director wasn’t involved in the work of designers, if they didn’t get that same talented mentoring. Was it a team or a collection of individuals vying for the “best projects?”

    • 16

      This is a stupid and whiny comment.

    • 17

      I used to work with this guy that wasn’t a creative at all, but liked to think he was. He saw himself as a business maverick and a creative powerhouse. He was actually just a inept business man with an interesting sort of napoleon complex. Reading your reply i was sure that you were him come to bring the thunder and kick sand in the eyes of the whiny creative people. It made me smile. I’m not gonna attack the use of words out of context or the grammar, that would be petty. And I’m not gonna point out that you are obviously a one man show in a one horse town, because that is apparent to anyone that has ever had to work with you or has read your comment. But i will say that the problems addressed in this article apply to people doing the kind of work in the kind of places that your attitude will never let you reach. Also.. ” petulant peril” seriously?

  5. 18

    Rebecca Haden

    June 29, 2010 5:48 am

    I’m meeting today with a client who wants some extremely unorthodox navigation for a website. We’ve explained the problems with this, using everything from research data to metaphors, but they’re adamant. So I’m trying to see this as a creative challenge: is it possible to take their terrible idea and still create a wonderful website?
    The only real alternative is to turn down the job in a fit of artistic temperament. That might be briefly satisfying, but the long term satisfaction of solving the creative puzzle can be more gratifying.
    Of course, if the website isn’t wonderful, thanks to the design committee, we don’t have to sign it or put it on our client list. We’ll still get paid, and the clients will get what they (and their secretary) want.

    • 19

      This “smells” bad already Rebecca. If you’ve got a client who won’t listen to you and the project isn’t fully underway then it will just get worse. Is the client hiring you because you have photoshop/illustrator and “can make a webpage” or are they hiring you because you know HOW and CAN?

      The clients that demand and don’t listen create projects that suck life, time and money from us. Its not just an artistic high horse, its a matter of defining who the expert in the room is.

      They have to agree to input and guidance now or you’re sailing on a ship made of cardboard and it will sink soon.

      • 20

        Mohawk Kellye

        July 1, 2010 9:42 am

        This certainly makes sense. I’ve had this struggle before–having to deal with a client who is hell bent on irrational functionality and design and I’ve started to wonder why did they hire me? Why wouldn’t they want to take at least some advice from someone who obviously has more knowledge and experience in the field (I’m not just a freelancer but I’ve worked in agencies, I think that validates my ability to some extent). I don’t see my job as some kind of “Assistant” where I just follow exact order of my client. I thought I was supposed to be more of a “Consultant” where they’re seeking guidance from someone who knows more than they do on the subject, not to enforce craziness upon the web. >_<

        • 21

          Jonny Bravo

          July 5, 2010 3:06 pm

          I have to agree with Rebecca…I truly believe this is our challenge as designers in the commercial world, 1. by communicating our knowledge and expertise in such a way that it is taken on board and 2. applying our creative skills to produce a finished masterpiece from irrational briefs. If a client wont budge from a downright crap idea then i believe that ‘making’ it work is what separates great designers from the rest. Some of my best work has come from the worst ideas, just because I have pushed the boundaries…and like Rebecca said, the satisfaction from this is far greater than the initial buzz of telling the client where to stick their brief!

          • 22

            Bravo, Johnny Bravo!

            This is a tough time — you’ve got someone paying your bills, you try and make them happy. Yes, you owe it to yourself to retain your artistic integrity, but perhaps you can do both.

            I had the worst idea ever thrown at me. It was from a guy who sold large commercial tractor mowers (Zero Turn Mowers, if you’re familiar, cost about $5K average)… he said he wanted “a Dead Clint Eastwood in the signature man-with-no-name outfit — driving a zero turn mower” ,… it was the design challenge from hell.

            But you know what, it went in the portfolio. I was determined to make something of it and I did.

    • 23

      Make your version, too. Then when their version tanks, offer your version for an A/B test.

      Bang! Extended contract AND utter vindication!

    • 24

      David Desjardins

      June 29, 2010 2:25 pm

      Hi Rebecca –

      If it’s a question of making ends meet, take the work and live with the frustrations. Heck, even we need to eat.

      But if you can live without the business, tell the prospect what you feel:

      “The navigation you are suggesting is counter-intuitive, and will actually decrease any potential business. I can’t build something that I know would hurt your business. I’m sorry – we’ll have to pass on this project.”


      • 25

        While that is true if they currently have no page then _any_ page will increase business.

        • 26

          No it won’t. A site has a specific purpose in the process of getting your prospective clients to do something – visting your establishment, buying in your shop, hiring you for work. If it doesn’t work, then the it’s not doing its part and fact gets you no additional business whatsoever.

    • 27

      Don’t get me wrong, but for enough of a fee, I will sell my design soul to the devil client. At an hourly rate, you can have a $20,000 business card…if they pay it.

      Thanks for reading and responding!

    • 28

      Do you not have the technical skills to do what they ask?
      I think THAT is the real issue, which you attempt to cover up with faux superiority and disdain.

      Can you not have both?
      Many websites have a simple list menu to supplement their other flashier menu.

      • 29

        I think that you’re a moron.

      • 30

        Stanley Brown

        July 5, 2010 5:07 pm

        I also think he is a moron.

      • 31

        Hahaha, I think he’s a moron too, but these replies are, you must admit (somewhat ironically) however, these replies are dripping with disdain.

  6. 32

    Just at the moment i was getting pissed about another design-by-commitee decision this article appeared. Priceless.

  7. 33

    frederick Luna

    June 29, 2010 5:52 am

    Very nice article Speider, over a year ago i read a great article named, “how to ruin the design curve” from seomoz .. but you really get the point. .. great post!

  8. 34


  9. 35

    100% accurate, but 100% impossible at my job, since it’s entirely dependent on design-by-committee. Kill me now.

  10. 36

    I agree 1000 times. Thanks for your article.

  11. 37

    “My dog didn’t wag its tail.”

    I’ve never heard this one before.

    Nice article , and i think it’s part of the job , like a magician, to make them choose the cards that we want.
    I know It’s hard
    Cheers guys.

  12. 38

    I partly agree. Letting a good designer do his work is not a bad thing, but there is a big difference between design, usability and joy of use.
    Always consider your products have to be usable too and not just nice to look at. One single person would never create a great product unless fortune helps a lot ;-)

    • 39

      Agreed. I work in-house, and find that when my coworkers try to overstep their boundaries and give me creative feedback, it’s because they feel their agenda isn’t represented on the final piece of collateral.

      Ok, and one of them has a serious control issue.

      Basically, my job is to make it aesthetically pleasing and readable. Their jobs are to make sure it has accurate information and reflects well on their department. Keep in mind my finished product is something a lot of people have to stand by, distribute, and consult. They’re right to have a stake in it.

      In my experience, a client or coworker is right to say “that’s not readable” but is totally out of bounds to say “that should be a lighter shade of blue and moved 10px to the left.” Even if the end result of those sentences are the same, it’s their job to point out the design problem and my job to fix it.

      It can be hard to educate people on this, honestly I’m still working at it. But if I was to work on it alone my tendency is to make the most beautiful, pointless piece of shit they’d pay me for.

      • 40

        A competent designer can address those challenges and if a strong and tight team, as opposed to a subjective collection of mumblings from a committee, is used, there are mountains that can be moved…hopefully covering the shallow graves of “commidiots.”

        Now, as for not competent designers, stay tuned for the next riveting, whining article entitled, “Are We Our Own Worst Enemy?”

        Thanks for reading and responding!

  13. 41

    When dealing with people who want to be included in the decision-making process, I often use the green M&M, red M&M approach…. Try to have them focus on one decision with limited choices (do you want a green M&M or a red M&M?) where any of the outcomes are perfectly fine with me.

    • 42

      Mark, I like this approach far better than “put a mole on the model’s face.”

      Disclosure: I’m not a designer, and in these meetings I do my best to try to first understand the creative vision and then identify the design’s problems and, if I find any, give the designer general parameters for a solution — for example, “This area needs to stand out a bit more. What can be done to make that happen?”

      But back to moles on the face. Too often I have seen it happen: the response of the Person In Charge is, “What a distinctive mole! It gives her character — a certain earthiness.”

      And then they offer a few changes that wreck everything that was right about the design.


      • 43

        Maybe…TWO moles?

        There is no second guessing humans. It’s just best to move ahead and explain your decisions and hope people will listen and consider the validity.

        I was doing a cheap brochure for a “good cause” not long ago and aside from them not realizing they had given me their charity’s name wrong (yes, they got their own name wrong and never noticed the mistake on their copy or the jpegs I would send), forcing me to correct everything overnight as the piece was “on the press,” it was fairly easy. There was a comment about the background color but by explaining the emotional impact of colors, using McDonald’s color palette with the emotional responses to orange yellow and red, the request was withdrawn.

        I will be the first to admit is is not easy to stay cool and think on your feet in front of a committee (another reason a team environment creates familiarity and brings people out, along with their best ideas). I consider myself fortunate to be able to use words well and have experience in debate and public speaking. Most people I know can’t do it. Just have a prepared speech and a couple of flow charts and you’ll be speaking their language. It’s akin to the “M&M” strategy — lead them where they need to be.

  14. 44

    Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.

    Perfect timing…although I could say that most of the time.

  15. 45

    Will it ever end?

    • 46

      If people learn the subtleties of handling coworkers, objection response and management. Creatives too often forget the uncreative side of office politics. There’s no way out of it, except for just rolling over every time you are asked to do so. That will drive you insane eventually because people will take more and more and more.

      It sounds silly, but there are plenty of business books on the subject of dealing with difficult coworkers, but they are helpful.

      Thanks for reading and responding!

  16. 47


  17. 48

    “…know when to pick your battles and know when to let go…” – so true. So very, very true.

  18. 49

    Good read. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the term “designer”, and whether that pigeonholes us or not. For example, some clients hire designers to “make things look nice”, not understanding that GOOD design is a marriage of form & function.

    I think the term “designer”, to these clients, can sometimes be misconstrued as “guy with CS5”.

    I wish I had a solution. Perhaps, for freelancers and studio owners, it may be more beneficial to focus on the strategic planning of a communication piece and let design fall in as a part of that category. However, I’m just thinking out loud and that may be ridiculous.

    • 50

      Not ridiculous. Anything to remove the perceived subjectivity from the process is a step in the right direction.

    • 51

      I think part of the solution is to market yourself–whether you’re a studio or freelancer or in-house designer (and maybe even more so if you’re in house)–as a design consultant.

      we all-too-often get seen, particularly in-house, as the “make it pretty” people. the people who are given very specific directions for already concluded work, instead of the people who are asked for input all along the way because we have valuable input that affects more than just “what color that box is.”

      we need to start by perceiving ourselves as consultants and then communicate that perception to the clients so they believe it as well. until a designer can do that, they’ll be perceived as service providers, not consultants. and as “service providers,” we’re seen as more of an admin or support role, not a professional role.

    • 52

      I’ve heard and even had some different titles to get around that but the bottom line is we are creatives and therefore “weirdos.” Use that to scare people into submission! ;)

      “Creative Consulting” or “Creative Solutions” still have the word creative. I wonder if “Committee Expert” would fly?

      Thanks for reading and responding!

    • 53

      designer != artist.

      This is the distinction.

  19. 54

    Stephen Dyson

    June 29, 2010 6:56 am

    have this nearly very day as i’m only creative/marketing person in the company.
    The most annoying thing is extra time things take for example our new letterheads have taken 4 months to do due to ‘senior’ managers unable to decided what they want on them and what the Terms and Conditions say.

    Best bit of advice I can offer is listen to people and smile and ditch 99% of the ideas and keep the good ones, never shut yourself off from it totally as sometimes some very good ideas come through

  20. 56

    Jamie Brewer

    June 29, 2010 6:58 am

    Great article. I especially liked the link to the stop sign design process!

    • 57

      Watch the show link (Better Off Ted) It’s well worth the 21 minutes!

      Thanks for reading and responding!

  21. 58

    Nice article, and I agree that client-side design-by-committee processes tend to yield degraded design solutions.

    But, more often than not, there’s an acute lack of accountability on the part of senior Creatives if the designs they hold domain over fail to hit the mark. In fact, courage tends to lack conviction when ‘big idea’ creative solutions don’t meet the expectations of clients.

    Sure, you can hold Apple as an example, but their design process involves thousands of small ideas from several people that generate a particular product.

    And, while some design solutions could likely be the orgasmic brainchild of an ego-maniacal Art Director hell bent on winning industry marketing awards, I’d like to think the only design-by-committee process going on is within the internal design team, with each member being able to give perspective and rationale to proposed solutions.

    If your experiencing design-by-committee outside of this dynamic, then there’s a greater problem of controlling client feedback.

  22. 59

    Thank you for writing this!

  23. 60

    Great article on dealing with the “peterson principle” problem within in-house designers. I’ve been working around certified pros in other disciplines. Many of which are brilliant and ignorant of their chosen profession. However, time and time again, they are considered “experts” and usually get their way. Or worse, the committee is intimidated and doesn’t debate their decisions.
    After twenty years of this, I noticed one thing. Graphic designers have no credibility on paper. No certification, even professional organizations aren’t enough to justify our career choices. I know many of you believe we can’t certify design or art. Why not? We only hurt our profession and make it vulnerable to open subjective opinion about our design.
    Another point, not all in-house graphic designers have educated bosses. So our credibility is considered more “administrative” than an essential part of the operations of a business, for example, accountant, sales manager, project manager etc..

    • 61


      Excellent point made about the detriment to designers that there is no professional organization, certification or union. I think a professional organization or design union would help with so many issues designers encounter like certifications for skill levels, being paid by clients and how we are classified by our employers for over time.

      At the last company my husband worked for no one got over time, not even the underlings. And some of them actually slept at the office to meet aggressive deadlines. Why do we allow ourselves to be abused like this? Because we feel like there is no one to turn to; no larger organization to help set standards.

      Back on topic….. excellent article.
      When dealing with a committee sometimes I just say “no thank you” b/c it’s just not worth the stress or time that would be better spent on more productive projects.

      • 62

        Somewhere in the Smashing queue there is a story that discusses unionizing. Keep checking back for “Are We Our Own Worst Enemy?”

        Thanks for reading and responding!

  24. 63

    Thanks for the article ! The problem is that most of the time I just can’t do anything but try to make it with the awfull direction that client gave to me.
    One of them bring his wife ans say to me : “she came with me because she’s an aesthete” “sure bro, but she actually sells rings in a store…”
    And by the way, try to avoid working with people older than 60 !

    • 64

      HA! Been there. The “old days” seem to be the best, when graphic design, a candy bar and a house all cost a nickel (5¢ USD – smallest coin next to the 1¢ penny).

      Thanks for reading and responding!

      • 65

        And by the way, as you maybe notice it by my english…I’m french…just to say that this kind of problem seems to be worldwild !
        Thanks again for the article, and the video on the stop sign is just amazing !

  25. 66

    This is one of the few articles I’ve read that has a great gauge for a real problem that exists in the creative field. Time and time again, I am shocked by individuals lending opinion on something they know nothing about. I would never stand over my mechanics shoulder and question something he was doing or lend my opinion on it. Nor would I question his hourly rate.

    Thank you for this great article. It’s nice simply from the facet that people out there can sympathize with something that we deal with daily at our company. Beyond that, the Peterson Principle and term ‘commidiot’ will be entering into my daily examples and vocabulary.

    • 67

      “Commidiot” is mine but I place it in public domain with the exception of all written titles, movies, comic books, tattoos and rock band names.

      Thanks for reading and responding!

      • 68

        I have to admit, I already used it in a discussion with a peer yesterday. Hopefully Merriam and or Webster will give you a shout out in their dictionary for the etymology.

    • 69

      Sadly lots of people do exactly that. They tell their mechanics what’s wrong with the car, they go to their doctor and say “This is what the internet said is wrong with me. I need you to prescribe me this super expensive drug the TV said I need.” You don’t do it because you know what it’s like to have it done to you and you know how stupid it is, but it’s fairly common — that’s what happens when people start believing opinion is as important as fact or actual knowledge.

  26. 70

    Fabulous! I literally have a sticky in front of my computer that says “Committees Kill Creativity”. I seriously feel that we have perpetuated a culture of indecisiveness. Sitting in on a meeting a while back, I watched in shock & awe how ideas became so “diluted” by the committee that the original concept was killed by a bunch of folks who did not know their butt end up from a whole in the ground. Kinda made me wonder if this is what happens to Bills in Congress?

    Thanks for the great post – it made my day. A nice complement to my daily visit to “Clients from Hell”.

  27. 71

    Working as webmaster in an organisation that starts a different commitee for just about every decision to be made (seriously), i found the best thing to do is to find an ally or two who are willing to back you up on every decision you make.

    Also, commitee’s are usually impressed with reports and studies. So when you have to convince a commitee on a certain decision, make sure you can point to studies or reports in your favour. If you’re good at bullshitting, make it up.

  28. 72


    June 29, 2010 7:51 am

    I’ve always thought of it as design “seems” to be with in peoples grasp. We are surrounded by so much media and we learnt to draw and opinionate things at such a young age. Anyone can pick up a pen and scribble and that’s why they feel their contribution matters.

    As we all know this is never the case. I think through educating people and being stubborn (if you’ve fufilled the objective) perhaps designers can win. There are also too many designers who don’t or can’t follow an objective. Who is the piece for? What purpose does it serve? A classic is websites, developers will no doubt have been asked to produce designs that just don’t work on the web. The designer hasn’t understood their objective and therefore produced rubbish.

    We need designers that can think objectively and developers who can think subjectively.

    • 73

      The best artist in my kindergarten was the kid with the 128 crayon set of Crayolas! Life was so simple back then…except for the milk and cookies distribution committee. We ended up starving to death. The end.

      Competence and the ability to understand all of the elements needed to reach the objective is hard, which is why so many creatives are dubbed as needing a “watchful eye” in the process. The rest of you…I mean us, have to live with that reputation.

      Thanks for reading and responding!

  29. 74

    nice article but that said, I have seen a lot of crappy designs too, where the Designer flipflopped the project entirely on his own @rt=tic Supremacy ;-)
    Listening is key, and (learn to) communicate. Of course “they” want a bigger favicon… deal with it ;-)

    • 75

      I could write several articles on the subject. In fact, I believe that’s my next Smashing article.

      Thanks for reading and responding!

  30. 76

    Paul Saunders

    June 29, 2010 8:14 am

    Great article.
    One element I disagree with is the assumption that the opinion of a “non-creative” is worthless… especially when they are footing the bill or commisioning the next paying gig. The customer may be a pain in the rear but they are always right. Most folk will trust an expert in any field based on trust. Ridiculing their (albeit) wrong opinion in front of their committee does not garner trust nor repeat orders. Beware!!

    • 77

      I appreciate the response. Yes, there can be a great observation from someone in a committee and all opinions must be considered. There are some that contradict each other or are just loud rumblings for the sake of being heard. Always be calm, patient and explore the possibilities. People will appreciate being heard but they will also be encouraged to contribute more the next time. Better to show you are considering it and if not viable, it can’t be used. If they freak, then you must use the corporate tools to diffuse it. A delicate dance of humans dealing with other humans…and committee mutants! (Forgive me).

      Thanks for reading and responding!

    • 79

      I disagree that the customer is ALWAYS right. It is a company’s duty to make them feel as though they are.

      If the customer were always right, there wouldn’t be over 31,000,000 results on Google for how to fire a client. The most important thing is to consider all opinions and give recourse for those ideas that you know are not in the best interest, or within the scope of the project.

      • 80

        Paul Saunders

        July 1, 2010 12:13 pm

        Hi Nulam…
        Thanks for correcting me – yes I agree with your statement. I worded my comment incorrectly. What I meant to say was that the customer needs to think that he is right and being listened to and that his comments are valued. A good designer will be able to manage expectations and carry on regardless as you suggest.

  31. 81

    A marketing guy wanted me to create an additional version of a landing page for a website, on top of my versions. after looking at everything together he pointed to “his” version and said: “i like this one most.”
    After a brief pause he added: “Ha ha, of course i’m supposed to like this one most, it’s my own layout after all!”

  32. 82

    Aaron Martone

    June 29, 2010 8:46 am

    I thrive on having my creative decisions usurped by someone who had previously entrusted my expertise with the given task.

    But in today’s economy, being out of a job simply isn’t worth causing waves. When the average person is wowed by work that is subpar to you in everyway, it’s easy to impress, but you end up with projects that you never want associated with yourself.

    And yet they ask, “Why aren’t you proud of it?” Why? Because you didn’t allow me to put anywhere near 100% of my effort towards it. Instead, we just did what you wanted. In actuality, they shouldn’t even ask “Why?”. Because they’ll never like the answer.

    • 83

      Kiss their a$$, take the money and if it was really painful, tell them you are too busy next time they call. I’ve dealt with delicate creative genius clients who will make a change and then insist you tell them how much you love their idea, creative ability and wish you could have their babies. Tell them you don’t like it and they will never call again. Fluff up their ego and the next time they call, tell them you had to raise your rate (to a level where you won’t get violently ill from having to listen to them). They either never call again or they pay you more to admire them and be their computer-literate hands.

      Thanks for reading and responding!

  33. 84

    Clients pay the bills. I’ll take the check made out to “Dance monkey, dance” in favor of starving any day.

    If you’re perceived as “flexible” and “easy to work with”, a client is likely to give a good referral. Hopefully that referral is to a good client that actually hires you on your creative ability and not your ability to push pixels on command.

    Given a sturdy client base, a designer has the ability to “fire” those pesky design-by-committee clients.

    • 85

      Agreed. Pride and “artistic integrity” will not feed you. And besides, you can always rage blog…

  34. 87

    Smashing Mag has done it again! Thanks for this article based on design-by-committees.

    ” Feeling the same way, an art director in Texas wrote, “The client may pay for the work, but who takes the blame when the client campaign fails miserably because the client did not listen to the advice of the designer?” ”

    A very insightful look on what a designer actually is… and their responsibilities to (hopefully) uphold good design.

  35. 88

    Well, people are like to share opinions, until they are alerted that they are full incompetent in something (that’s like cold shower). They will either be quiet next tome or dig deeper into theme to give more «suggestions» (well, I would do that… really! I don’t like to be called incompetent in something).

    Also designer can wear «I hate design cometee» t-shirt, that may help! Or there should be poster in cabinet.

    • 89

      Mmmm, I’m going to go with what’s behind curtain number two. You can’t actually tell someone they are incompetent unless you go to a lobby phone, call their extension and scream at them for being incompetent (disguise your voice — use a Homer Simpson voice if you can…and tell them it’s Homer Simpson calling).

      Better to smile, look like you are thinking and talk them out of what you can and do what they want. If it doesn’t make your portfolio, there will be others. Do this for a discounted rate and you get what you deserve — no money and nothing to really show for the time.

      Thanks for reading and responding!

  36. 90

    Aevum Design

    June 29, 2010 9:00 am

    I only had to ask my co-workers for input once… and that was all it took to learn my lesson. When I got input from my “team”, all that occurred was an increase in frustration and ambiguity on my design project. I think it’s better to have people separated into mini-projects on a design… otherwise, not only will you get too many different ideas, but your “decided” parts can be 2nd guessed by everyone…

    • 91

      Triad teams work great and they keep the project moving quickly. Have a team or committee of 12 or more and it’s a mess.

      Thanks for reading and responding!

  37. 92

    Reminds me of a meeting I was in a few months ago –where it seemed everyone including the janitor had input. Nothing was accomplished, I just counted the holes in the ceiling tiles.

  38. 94

    Evan Mullins

    June 29, 2010 9:27 am

    Along the lines of your photographer friend:

    “I’ll give the model a big mole on her face, and the committee focuses on that and are usually satisfied with the momentous change of removing it and leave everything else as is.”

    I always try to have two versions of a design (I make one that is real and another that just looks off, hoping that clients/committees will choose the better one) or a glaring flaw in a design, then once fixing that and getting their buy-in the process goes pretty well usually. But keep in mind they may love the glaring flaw and I have been stuck running with a bad design because they wanted it. Course, you don’t have to advertise that you made it and you still (hopefully) get paid so it all works out.

  39. 95

    Excellent words, nice to know there are so many of us who have the same problems!

  40. 96

    William Martin

    June 29, 2010 9:59 am

    I think your article does a good job of defining what an unproductive group of people in a creative setting really is. It seems to me that the key distinction lies between what constitutes a “committee” and a “team.” The former is either a democratic notion, in which decisions are ultimately oversimplified by voting or by “pulling rank” (e.g. client pays the bills so has the final say), or a group of individualists working on the same problem. They may be in the same room together, but neither constitutes a “team.”

    I don’t think that whether a group becomes a committee or team depends strictly the number of people in question or the number of designers versus non-designers. I believe working as a good team requires a set of particular skills that are acquired (just as design may be seen as a specialized skill set and way of thinking) and a particular attitude towards work process. One firm’s work may serve as an example.

    IDEO claims that none of their work is ever done on an individual basis, but rather that all creative and innovative challenges are tackled by well-working teams of people from different disciplines (product designers, economists, architects, engineers, etc.). Because of their team-based efforts, IDEO has become arguably one of the most successful product design firms in the world, and they are so confident in their abilities that they openly publish their design methodologies. (I don’t work for them, but I wish I were good enough to.)

    The difference between IDEO’s teams and the client committees mentioned in your article is that IDEO’s employees have learned how to work together creatively, that is, how to brainstorm properly, to identify and prioritize the issues impersonally, and to follow a process that leads from a fuzzy situation to a concrete solution. I’ve seen so many teams of designers and creatives fall apart, even when they share the same “vision,” because they don’t first address how they will work together. Egos are bruised, tensions rise, ownership of ideas prevails, and the loud overrule the thoughtful.

    But overall, your article does a fine job of detailing the difficulties of working in or with groups that are definitively committees of the worst kind, and you have great suggestions for when in such a situation and you can’t form a team, about how to navigate through listening and thoughtful prodding.

  41. 97

    When you’re web designer or firm refuses to sign or brand a website with their link at the bottom; that’s when a client should stop, back up, and wonder if they are morons and should listen to the web designer (you know, the people that do this for a living). I get the customer is always right, but sometimes you just want to smack them and say, “wth?”

  42. 98

    jewelry review

    June 29, 2010 7:44 pm

    jewelry review

    • 99

      Thanks for the spam! Or are you suggesting we buy ugly jewelry to bribe the committee members?

  43. 100

    I love the timing of your article. I just turned down a project that would have caused me more grief than needed. Yes, we serve users and we get paid by our employers/client, but designers still get the blame if the campaign is a pitfall, even AFTER the committee has made their decision. It is a constant battle to defend ourselves as “experts” in the game. We are also seen as an added “expense” in many industries–we are not engineers, scientists, lawyers or doctors. I choose my client(s), not the other way around. I am AWARE that my self-worth as a designer is more important than collecting a paycheck or serving people.

  44. 101

    Laura A Farrar

    June 29, 2010 11:36 am

    haha, I just through a hissy fit about this with my last issue. haha. I read an email about what a client “wants” and through something across the room. My hubby, was like what just happened? haha. Sigh. I also like the youtube video about how people don’t want to pay the price for what they are buying from a designer, lol.

    This article reminded me I am not alone. Thanks!

  45. 102

    Anytime I build a site, I ask the client: “What do your users want?” rather than ask what the client wants… puts the focus on the end user and helps them realize what they “want” is tied to a personal (not a business) preference.

  46. 103

    DazzleCat Digital Agency

    June 29, 2010 12:04 pm

    Having been through the design by committee process numerous times and just a few weeks ago the pains are obvious.

  47. 104

    Schalk Neethling

    June 29, 2010 12:05 pm

    This rings so true with the current I am on, it is scary ;-) Thanks for the great article.

  48. 105

    Awesome article. But it’s “committee,” not “commitee.”

    • 106

      You should have seen it before it was edited and proofed. Drinking and writing worked for Hemingway…and most other great authors but I just write the word “penguin” at the end of every sentence and drove the proofreader insane. One typo is still better than the mainstream news media sites.

      Thanks for reading and responding!

  49. 108

    Joshua Briley

    June 29, 2010 12:37 pm

    “Make it pop”… I know I’m in for an awful ride when I hear these words.

    • 109

      That, and “be creative” are the cause for many a facepalm.

      • 110

        I love, “do something different.”

        It’s sometimes a little “too different.” I’d rather swing for the fence and be pulled back than falling short, second guessing “different.”

        Thanks for reading and responding!

  50. 111

    This is exactly what I think you are talking about:

    • 112

      I’d swear someone illustrated one of my articles! How about, “can the site be round?”

      Thanks for reading and responding!

  51. 113

    I’ve seen quite a few articles like this on design blogs, and I agree with what most of them say, as I’ve experienced the headaches that come from dealing with difficult clients who “just don’t get it” or “know enough to be dangerous”.

    But at the end of the day, how do these articles really help with the problems they spotlight if they are published within the “choir” of the design community? Why aren’t design bloggers trying to get articles on this subject published in business publications or mainstream media that their clients will read? Wouldn’t that be more effective in combating the problems we face when dealing with clients?

  52. 114

    Aaron Martone

    June 29, 2010 1:45 pm

    The phrase ‘the customer is always right’ is utter garbage.

    If the customer is always right, you should do a $50,000 job for $0. Cause the customer says they don’t want to pay, and they are right. Making the customer think they have complete and utter control over even compensation is never a good idea.

    It’s not that a non-creative’s input shouldn’t be weighed; of course it should. But just because they are footing the bill doesn’t mean what they say is what should be. If the customer wants crap, and they are insistent on crap, you make them pay for the crap, and then give them crap. But don’t put your name on the project. Once they take creative control from you, it’s nothing you’d want to associate with your name/reputation.

  53. 115

    I am an Art Director. Thank you for validating the feeling I have toward my profession. I now know I am not alone.

  54. 117

    The focus group is dead! Yeah okay I’ve heard that for approximately 20 years.

  55. 118

    Unfortunately given the majority of my employer’s clients are large Government organisations the `design by committee’ issue is always present. There is no fundamental way around it due to the simple nature that there are so many stakeholders who need to give the green light or 2 cents into any design that has such a major public face to it. The best advice I can honestly offer is that there will always be design compromise – it is more about about a damage limitation strategy rather than anything. Once you accept this it becomes a far easier situation to handle. It’s not all negative though – we have experienced some wins through proper communication of our design rationale… and sheer stubbornness in defending that rationale as well ;-)

  56. 119

    My advice: Do whatever you can to steer the discussion away from issues of taste: user research, documentation of best practices, testing. “Ah, so you’d like to try xyz? OK, but I’m concerned this will create difficulties for the user because …. Why don’t we test both options and see which one gets the results we’re looking for?”

    A good way to handle the pressure of these meetings is to say, “today I just want to be sure I understand your concerns and ideas.” Don’t agree to anything while the committee is “designing.” Just ask questions and summarize what they’re saying. You can translate “bigger logo” into “more contrast between logo and background” later. Fortunately, a lot of the craziest proposals disappear between meetings if you don’t resist the initial flow of ideas.

    P.S. Sometimes clients do offer good observations and ideas. It doesn’t hurt to hear them out. Designing is fun and I don’t blame amateurs for wanting to participate.

    • 120

      Which is why we should convince people that we get massive nosebleeds and brain swelling coming up with creative ideas. Moan a lot and grab your head. Then yell, “I never should have sold my soul to the devil for creative ability!”

      Thanks for reading and responding!

  57. 121

    Diana Howard

    June 29, 2010 3:24 pm

    There’s a famous story about Michelangelo, who, while sculpting the famous “David”, had to listen to his client’s comment: “Don’t you think the nose seems too big?” Gathering a small pile of marble dust into his palm, he pretended to chip away at said nose, sprinkling the client below with the dust from his hand. “That better?” he asked. Satisfied that he had put his imprint on the decision making, the client left the artist —and the unaltered statue—alone.

  58. 122

    One more strategy: use the messiness of committee decision making processes to your advantage. Instead of responding to crazy suggestion yourself, ask the group, “while we’re discussing the menu, are there other perspectives or ideas I should hear?” Many times the conversation will veer off in another direction.

    • 123

      Even better if you have an Alka-Seltzer tablet in your mouth and it’s foaming, so they end the meeting and run. Sometimes you need to use quick, creative solutions.

      Thanks for reading and responding!

  59. 124

    David Suriano

    June 29, 2010 3:45 pm

    I just recently watched a great documentary called “Art & Copy” that looks at the history of advertising and inspiration thru the stories of some of the greatest creative visionaries that ever were.

    This post reflects a recurring theme throughout the film. I highly recommend giving it a watch …

  60. 126

    In an interview with Walter Mossberg of the WSJ, Steve Jobs was asked about the design process at Apple and about use or non-use of focus groups in giving direction to design projects. In his answer, Jobs quoted Henry Ford:

    “If I asked the public what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses.’

  61. 127

    Great post and nice article i really appreciate it thanks for sharing
    check this out also maybe it could help JOOMLA web designs.

  62. 128

    Here’s the solution we use to the committee issue …

    In our contracts we stipulate that for the entire course of the project the client shall appoint a SINGLE point of contact. That single point of contact is responsible for providing finalized feedback to us in the form of a singular email or document. So we actually are working with a committee but we are not actually having to deal with said committee. It’s worked out so much better that way. Even if we do a conference call, that point of contact is still responsible for providing us with concise and clear documentation of change requests. And on more than one occasion I had to enforce this, after hearing comments such as, “So you were on the call, can you just interpret what ever one said and do your thing?”

    The only time I’ve had to deal with it recently was a small company – the point of contact being the owner – who told me all about what his wife thought about the concept (the wife is of course not involved in the company). I simply explained to him that, while I think his wife’s opinion is valuable to him, I still need him to come up with a list of changes and provide those to me.

    Thankfully we’re able to work like this because 98% of our clients are not local to us – sparing us from the round-table committee.

    • 129

      Great suggestion, but does the point person give you every change suggested and can you discuss valid points with him/her or are they the beaten-down messenger and low person on the committee ladder?

      Thanks for reading and responding!

    • 130

      Hector Hurtado

      June 30, 2010 11:23 pm

      We also use the Single Point Of Contact (SPOC) strategy, but as Speider points out, this can lead to the same dramatic result if said contact is just another grunt down the ladder…

      In a recent project, the SPOC agreed with my initial argumented proposal for the design – the keyword here being argumented, as I explained from the start what led me to every design decision in the final mock-up. Nevertheless, the committee above him thought otherwise, and he was forced to pass the sour news.

      Educating your client, and defending your design is paramount. I cannot shut up anyway, don’t know how to. That said, there comes a moment when you have to ask yourself if the debate is worth the frustration, and more importantly, if the final product would really suffer from the committee’s changes.

      To wrap up my example, I swallowed my pride and applied some of the changes. Once my head got cool again, I could see that the end product was still very strong. Not as original as the first design was, not much different than the myriad websites out there, but still very readable, user-friendly, to the point, and minimalistic as I intended. A good compromise overall, and the client’s whining gave me more dough ;)

  63. 131

    As Creative Director part of my job has been to inteprete and consolidate design direction. What I’ve found are that there are 2 kinds of clients.

    #1 is basically ignorant about web best practices, and all they need is a light touch of education. After spending time explaining cross browser compatibility, minimum resolution, designated user flow and other industry jargon we take for granted, they usually get the point.

    #2 fancy themselves as creative directors and if it doesn’t harm the architecture or the budget too much its easier to just let them have their way and move them out of the way once they’re done. They’re usually out to make their own homepages rather than a real corporate website so their objectives aren’t aligned properly to begin with. No matter what you say they’re gonna want what they want.

  64. 132

    here are my answers to the art director’s list of favorite sayings in committee meetings:

    My wife wants more circles.
    ->Your wife has enough circles… around her eyes

    My husband says it doesn’t hit him in the gut.
    -> Perhaps I could then?

    My kids say there are too many words.
    -> How about “Shut up”, is that too many words?

    My dog didn’t wag its tail.
    -> That’s because it was born with no tail.

    The waiter said he’s seen something just like that in France.
    -> That’s a good thing. The French know best, look at Iraq

    I need more oopmh 
in it.
    ->How about more poop(mh)

    I’ll know it when I see it. So go back and make more.
    -> I’m done here. You can keep the product and the unpaid balance

    I love what _____ did. Can you do the same, but with carrots?
    Yes I can, if its a soup or salad.

    What are you doing after work?
    Drinking myself to oblivion and try to forget this meeting ever happened

    • 133

      I like you! Are you my long-lost brother?

      Thanks for reading and responding!

  65. 134


    June 29, 2010 8:59 pm

    This “problem” will exist as long as this situation will be evaluated as “bad”. This is neither good nor bad. Just As is. It’s all in your mind.
    This article shows how designers are helpless when they need to make a decision.Very much it would be desirable to accuse the customer.
    What to do – Change a situation to your own advantage or simply refuse to work with this client and that is all! But you do not, because you need money and pride does not allow you to do. Stop! Line has been looped. It’s all in your mind. ))))

  66. 135

    Thanks! It needs to be said. Now to address Steve’s post below.

  67. 136

    One of my clients is famous for turning a beautifully clean white space design into a dark mess by saying “I want it to look more modern – make it black!, fill that space with a map, put something there . . . ” this is said to pretty much anything I design for them but normally about 3hours before the deadline and after weeks of work. People on committee groups definitely 100% always demand something just so they can turn around and say “look what I did”.

  68. 137

    Hey dude. Do you think:

    a) a design can be critiqued, as long as it is critiqued by the “right” people (I dunno, creatives only or something – which begs the question who are the creatives, can you design with a committee of creatives etc)
    b) you just shouldn’t fiddle with a design. in which case is it that the design is presented, the “committee” make a yes or no decision (or is there even scope for them to make a decision at all?)

    • 138

      While working at a large greeting card company here in the states, the best product came out of a committee of designers who shared, commented and made suggestions. The difference is we all had trained eyes, a knowledge of visual story-telling and respected each other and added nothing just to hear our own voices. “Team” is one thing and “committee” is something else.

      There are times that non-creatives do see with a slant not seen by the creative and, they do have merit. It’s the same with the poor Smashing proofreaders I drive insane with typos I just don’t see.

      Thanks for reading and responding!

  69. 139

    It’s a great article! But it some cases we can use commitee to make customer change his mind. It happened to us to work for a coffee-shop owner who wanted coffee beans chaotically moving on his page. Terribly annoying effect! Once he came to our office and we just showed his website to everybody in the office. Some people asked: “Why do you have cockroaches on your page?”. After that comment he asked me to remove the “cockroaches” :)

    • 140

      From now on I’m putting cockroaches into everything I design! If the committee asks why I’ll refer to the roaches by names I have given them. “You don’t like Fred or Kenneth?”

      Thanks for reading and responding!

  70. 141


    (sorry for the caps).
    When presenting a design to a commitee, one can use ‘a man a plan a canal panama’ above to illustrate what design by committee actually does.

    Someone in the committy would say: “A man?… No, in our department we say: a person”. Then someone else would say: “A plan? … No, our guidelines dictate: an idea”. So we get: “a person an idea a canal panama”. The remarks don’t change the broader message. However; The concept as a whole is wrecked; since after the remarks the line isn’t a palindrome anymore. (read backwards the same thing).

    This is nice way to illustrate the process within the group, and when brought with a little humor it’s very efficient.

    • 142

      Interesting! I like it but I think you would need to walk them through the “person,” Idea” words would need to be handed to them.

      Thanks for reading and responding!

  71. 144

    Creatively Sucked Dry

    June 30, 2010 3:29 am

    I’m a permenant member of design-by-commitee where I work (1 (senior) designer) about 60 others – I have had rejection of icons because they “someone doens’t like them”, the MD’s PA (who has a marketing background…*raises eyebrows*) likes to sit next to me and Art Direct me beacuse “that’s what she did where she last worked”… changing colours in my design because she “doesn’t think they’re right”… teams requesting I design their latest UI to “look like Google”… I could go on and on… I’ve come to the realisation that I’m a “Mac Opererator” (showing my age) and not a Designer…

  72. 145

    Where I work as Senior Designer, we are redoing the company site but while off on paternity leave with my wife, the CEO decided to redesign the website. Basically we’ve copied a leading newspaper website. We’re currently going through the process of design by committee as marketing, sales and senior management discuss the next steps. Design and programming havent been consulted yet.

    I die a bit inside everyday when we hear their ideas.

    • 146

      I know it’s a tough economy, but I would make it my number one priority to find a new, abusive situation…with higher pay?

      Thanks for reading and responding!

  73. 147

    Well, I never really heard of this phenomenon.. I have the occasional client who consults with family but I find that if you explain everything in a professional manner they will take your word. I do however try to represent myself as a true professional, I never tell lies mind you but I do like to give my clients the idea that they have just hired an “Elite Designer”..

  74. 148

    Dean Wright

    June 30, 2010 7:41 am

    Thank you so much for this therapeutic article! I tell my clients: “In marketing, there is no one right way. But there is a difference between the wrong way and the right way.” I also tell them straight out: “if you worry about font size or believe YOU are the creative one, my company is probably not the best fit for you”. I try to be upfront that I’m the creative one. I’m not an artist. I’m a creative. Big difference.

  75. 149

    Jean Bauhaus

    June 30, 2010 10:19 am

    Man, I can relate. My biggest client is actually a coaching firm who’s philosophy is that the more people you gather input and get ideas from, the better, because you never know who’s going to have the breakthrough idea that brings everything together. So you can bet that when I re-did their web site, everybody and their mother was asked to give feedback on the design. It was incredibly frustrating from a design perspective, and in the end I’m not totally satisfied with the result… but the client is, and that’s what matters.

    That said, I feel compelled to point out that I spent ten years working as a secretary and administrative assistant while I studied web design and built web sites on the side. So, y’know, don’t assume that the secretary has no idea what she’s talking about just because she’s a lowly secretary. THAT said, it does sound like maybe that particular secretary was a little too full of her own opinion and overstepped her bounds. But even if she’d never studied design and wouldn’t know an HTML tag if it bit her on the hinder, she could still have useful input from an end-user standpoint.

    • 150

      Creatively Sucked Dry

      July 5, 2010 4:44 am

      Jean – no offence was meant… but my point was there are those with *creative* or artistic talent and those without – can it be learned? Sorry, no.
      Can you get better at design than you already are? Sure you can learn the principles of typography, color theoy, etc, etc. Being a Designer or Creative is different to building websites… IMHO… BTW this is just my opinion… ;o)

      If you’re employed as a *creative* – you should be trusted to do that job because you have the (years of) knowledge and experience… if i get a plumber to fix my boiler, I wouldn’t sit over his shoulder “directing” him because I read a few books on plumbing and fixed a leaky tap… he’s there because he has had the training and years of knowledge and experience… “a spanner doth not a plumber make” or something like that!

  76. 151

    Amazing article, Kudos! Love that quote from the photographer.

  77. 152

    Can we have a link to the video on hulu widible from outside america ?

  78. 153

    This is a really common problem. Nice to read about it. And thought evoking.

    My method of dealing with this kind of situation is to tell the client that they will of course get what ever they want, but inform them if I strongly advise against it. Since they are paying for my professional knowledge, it is my duty to advise them honestly and accordinig to my belief even if it is contrary to what they wish for.

    I also keep a second branch of design alive — what it ought to look like — parallel to the uggly and bad solution the client wants, until they come around… It takes more work (sometimes unpaid for), but it is the only way of getting them around to my view, or at least an acceptable compromise…

  79. 154

    Well Well Well, good article, enjoyed.
    I come from architecture sphere I was and still am designing small residential houses, you might think how it relates to this article? My answer is that every creative work comes with the same problems. I learned my lesson, and would like to exchange my practice dealing with these issues.
    Common mistakes I made were related with project funding (client has to know that he cannot change everything every time he wants without paying for it), then the interesting thing called confidence (client has to be confident about you as a professional, he has to know that you are making decisions related with design, not him, he just can add a comment but not to direct you how to do your job), then it was problem putting all the issues in the firs step of a process, you will not be able to work normally without knowing what should be the target for the project and I mean the project and not always what the client puts to you.
    So what next.. The client comes, you talk about funding, you lie down all the issues of the project, then you start working, you get funding for every step you make, and if client starts talking about the effect of your design on his dog :) and when he starts to show you how you should do your job, shows you “the new design trends”, how to use white space etc. then you will remind him that you are a designer and you will not be responsible for the crap project which will probably make you a clown among other professionals.
    I believe that everybody will not accept my approach to this problem because you are all trying to make money and you try to undertake every project you can, but guys this is not the way how to deal with arts discipline.

    And the last thing to think about is that every problem can be solved professionally whether it is a small change or change of the whole project.

    • 155

      It’s very similar, as are many fields that deal with intangibles that are process driven and built to a finality. Now if you were designing a dog house for the guy, his dog’s opinion would count.

      Thanks for reading and responding!

    • 156

      Hector Hurtado

      June 30, 2010 11:46 pm


      Being an architect, and considering your approach to the problem, I believe you must be familiar with Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead”?

      That said, are you, are we ready to design like artists and never compromise? Are we ready to live Van Gogh’s life and die poor? If you are, I admire and applaud your courage. Me, I practice art, design… and zen.

      The client may want to add his input in my design, rightly so, it is then my job to educate him, argue, and eventually decide if his opinion can be accounted for or if I should let him go.

      That said, in my artistic research on painting or photography, I must bow to no one!

  80. 157

    Wilbur L Walk Jr

    June 30, 2010 7:41 pm

    I am crying and laughing at the same time.
    F**k my (I love my) life.

  81. 158

    Look at it this way, @Wilbur, at least we’re not burned as witches anymore. Ha!

    See you at the coven on Friday and bring some bat wings, eye of newt and Miracle Whip.

    Thanks for reading and responding and practicing the dark art of design and witchery!

  82. 159

    140 replies already…someone hit a nerve. One of the best comments I have had in a design review was when the client asked if the product (a football kit) could be changed to a colour that matched his wife’s curtains. And as the business of crowd sourced design was hyped and touted, I smiled inside. Now everyone thinks they are a designer.
    Committees design, at best, something average_ a product or concept that is by nature a bucket of different peoples compromise. A creative genius working alone can deliver so much more.
    ‘talent hits the target no one else can hit…but genius hits the target no one else can see’

    • 160

      Thanks, but something like 93 comments are mine, 1 is spam, 1 person hates me, the story, life and puppies but the rest…they are why I write an articles as I do, to encourage discussion among peers so we can all learn something and perhaps create a business professional ethic that will elevate us above “mole-people.”

      Were the curtains a nice floral or gingham check?

      Thanks for reading and responding!

  83. 161

    Nail on the head with this article. As an in-house designer at a fairly large and corporate entity, I struggle on a daily basis with office politics and design by committee. Its made worse by me working for a group of companies, 4 of which will follow the same branding as each other. This means that approval for design has to go though 4 separate managing directors and 2 chairman. Bad enough, but then when they decide to forward a web design concept though the company secretary, the employees themselves, wives, family’s, and the next door neighbours cat. Its now lost most of the things that made it stand out a bit, as the senior management decided this was “too risky”. Sigh.

  84. 162

    I learned a long time ago that THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE contact person for the designer. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t dozens of people on the client’s side involved in the decision making process, but it means that they have to come to a decision amongst themselves, and then bring that decision to the designer. If the client expects the designer to mediate between two or more parties, then the job becomes mediation, and the last time I checked, professional mediation services pay about four times as much as web design. Clients who don’t accept the notion that there can be only one contact person are not worth the trouble.

  85. 163

    Tony Waghorn

    July 1, 2010 5:11 am

    There’s a great piece on a similar theme by the US Communication Arts magazine.
    It talks about the principle of defining stakeholders and ‘blowing up the balloon’ at the beginning of the project with the necessary ideas.
    That means that when the CEO or cleaner comes along at the end of the project with an opinion, you can say, politely that criticism in the project is based on the brief alone.

  86. 164

    I published a counter-point to your article on my own blog:

    Although you raise some interesting issues, I disagree with the way you make your points and think you missed the forrest for the tree by focusing on caricatural “make the logo bigger” bad ideas.

    • 165

      It’s “forest (not “forrest” – that’s Gump’s first name) THROUGH the trees,” Sacha.

      I always welcome opposing viewpoints in articles as it creates a discussion as valuable, if not more, than the article itself and that creates the education value.

      You did miss the point, however, as evident in the passage (on your blog), “Does any of those sound like something a profesional designer would say? I didn’t think so. Those are not example of design by committee, those are just examples of design by non-designers.”

      That is the point; the dumbing-down of an effective design, which will, if not effective, have fault laid at the feet of the creative, even after all the non-creative, more subjective than anything else, opinions are incorporated. Design-by-committee never seems to be take-the-blame-by-committee.

      • 166

        Sacha and I have had a very nice discussion going on his blog. I truly do treasure opposing opinions because it shows a side that I may not see and it gives me the anxiety issues that allow me great prescription medication (just kidding…I think. Must be the medication).

        I wanted to pass on kudos to Sacha for being young and feisty and questioning the status quo. I remember being that way. His link will show you the discussion, if you care, but I thought my final point, in agreement with his point on communicating, would be of interest to everyone.

        “Which brings me to the point of the article, which is always based on communications. We both put forth our opinions in a calm and professional manner until we met in a middle ground. Negotiating a pleasant agreement and understanding.”

        “This is what you need to do every day when dealing with humans and especially with those entrenched in the “design-by-committee” mentality. In a way it’s almost anonymous for people to blend into other opinions at a meeting. When they are questioned, they lose that anonymity. Those who are uncomfortable with losing that shield will be more apt to nod in approval the next time.”

        “Always question the status quo, Sacha! That’s the charm and strength of the young. We lose it as we grow and are beaten down by life. Except me, of course.”

  87. 167

    “Thanks for reading and responding!”

    I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest that I am not the only one who finds that spammy-ish tag line incredibly annoying! lol

    It’s one thing to gently encourage community feedback and participation, but sometimes “just a little more than enough” is too damn much!

    Like the knife you stick in the debtors chest to encourage him to pay his bills quicker: Little bit “more than enough” means you now have a dead body and nobody to dig the hole and bury it!
    (Note to all: if you DO mean to kill the bugger, have HIM dig the burial hole and also have him rent the get away car on HIS credit card (sure, he wont get back the deposit, but he’ll be dead anyway, so I guess what I’m really saying is, dont kill anybody by accident, kill ’em on purpose)

    But back to the point of the topic, I am oft dismayed at articles like these because they promote this “us against them” and totally idiotic responses to real issues. To promote a sense of useless camaraderie as we all stick together on this sinking ship we just blew a hole in with our stupid attitudes.
    in response to some queries:

    “1) Are you a creative or work with creatives?

    2) Why is it you believe a creative cannot speak the “two languages” as you described?”

    1) yes, on both counts, though I am primarily a developer and more recently a project manager

    2) Because “Creatives” tend to hang around other creatives, in sites such as this one (Though Smash Mag is more general purposed and targeted and consequently, not as bad as those really design /creative focused sites)
    In sites similar to this one, articles (similar to the current article) are the daily bread, and they feed on the masturbatory, client-bashing articles, comments and anecdotes – Instead of learning and teaching each other to NOT be little self-important, pompous little assholes, smirking at the clients foibles and misunderstandings – “Dude, he didnt know an Em from Pixel! and besides, EVERYONE knows that Chewbacca didnt really grow up on Endor!”

    “Make it Pop”

    “It doesnt have enough Ooomph”

    Instead of bemoaning or belittling their uneducated utterances, ask instead: “Do you have examples? another ad campaign? a current product?” what about it crates that “Oomph” you crave!

    (at the very worst, you may have done the equivalent of giving a blonde a bottle of shampoo!)
    Wash,Rinse, Repeat
    Follow that up with observations that maybe the “lost password” screen is NOT the place for visual “oomph” etc..

    RE: Yes, the work is for the employer, but is everyone on a committee an “employer?” Certainly on a staff position, does everyone in the room become an “employer?”

    For better or worse, they have been elevated to that position – you need to recognize that, realize that for the moment, you are not a ‘designer/creative’ – you are now a social engineer. Be aware of clues, context, non verbal communicative behaviors (crossed arms, frowning, tapping away on blackberries, etc) and maintain your connection.
    You will find walking around the room, addressing people by name, keeping meetings short with a published agenda and sometimes, just springing for a box of donuts!

    recognizing that a manager was now without a wedding ring -last month one was there – prompted to make the comment that “this project involves change – not all change we will be happy with, but some changes have to be made regardless, we are qualified, and smart enough, to survive and excel vs ANY challenges we may face”*

    *Generic pandering Dr Phil-esque bullshit, perhaps, but I sealed the deal

    • 168

      You’re Mental, that’s what I worked out from that comment.

      Quite funny though! ;)

    • 169

      I don’t even know how to respond to such a statement as it is not based in any reality I have seen in my many years of dealing with our field and the people within it. If I walked into a project with someone who puts themselves forward in such a manner as you have, I would walk away…quickly.

      After your first comment on what creatives do to a box of donuts, I’ll have to pass on bringing baked goods.

      “Social engineer?” “Wedding ring?” There is no logical response, but…thanks for reading and responding!

    • 170

      Wilbur Walk

      July 2, 2010 4:37 am

      “Instead of bemoaning or belittling their uneducated utterances, ask instead: ‘Do you have examples?’ ”

      Upon requesting something with “more Wow”, I asked that very question to our CEO.
      His answer was, “No… I don’t see why it should be that difficult”

      • 171

        I’m afraid I make it a habit to ask a client if they have any visual examples of what they think is a pleasing ad or website that they feel would best convey their brand to their clients. After explaining what a brand is to them, I will suggest they gather examples and send me links. After explaining how to send a link…

        At that point, I can have a visual reference, not to copy, as some clients want, but to use the color palette and feel of the example and it heads off a lot of trouble….or they change their minds. If they tell me they trust me and I should “WOW!” them, that’s what I do. It does, more often than I would like, lead to a watering down from the client.

        Groundbreaking is for people who can walk away and pick and choose projects and new hospital wings. I can’t say I’ve seen even the biggest design firms walking away from work these days.

        • 172

          Creatively Sucked Dry

          July 5, 2010 5:01 am

          I remember my first experience of *real design* at one of the larger design studios in the UK (I was fresh out of college) the client was the BBC, the job was the TV awards.

          The creative team proposed several ideas to the BBC, the one they pushed was the best – it would have won awards.. I ‘m certain and so was everyone else.. apart from the client, who rejected it after much attempted persuasion… you can lead a horse to water…

  88. 173

    Well said! Could not agree more.

  89. 174

    Mohawk Kellye

    July 1, 2010 9:44 am

    I obviously can’t sit here and read all the comments, but I appreciate that Speider takes the time to give feedback, and very useful feedback at that.

    • 175

      Thank you! I won’t use the “spammy-ish tag line” Steve finds so annoying, so instead I’ll say, glad you enjoyed the article and feedback.

  90. 176

    thank you for this. it makes me feel like im not alone. or going batty.. one of the two.

  91. 177

    First, I enjoyed the article very much! Thank you for your insights.

    My past two full-time positions involved working with the dreadful Design Committee. Half way through my time at the second job, I went into space, stopped fighting, and just did what they wanted. I turned into a zombie and really hated every single day that I showed up for work. But, that was hard, because I felt as though I wasted all that time just to eventually give in. Those two jobs wore me out. I now have a less stressful job, making more $$$$, but not as creative. But I am happy. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

    Also, I love the cockroach idea, I might have to use that one!

    But what I really want to ask you is: Is “Speider Schneider” your real name?!?

    • 178

      It’s a nickname I have had since childhood, but not a “given” name. ;)

      We all find situations that are impossible working conditions. Until employers have the death penalty for workers, just move on and find a happier place, as you did. Happiness is priceless — creativity can be fulfilled via many avenues in one’s life, if not through our primary income earning.

      Thanks for the comment!

  92. 179

    What designer hasn’t been through this? Great piece! I love the dumb comments people make. I get in trouble, though, when I respond with my own comments like, “Where did your dog go to art school?” Oh, well…
    I worked for a guy, once, who thought he knew better than me because he did an internship once where he helped a bunch of inner-city kids create a newsletter. Is it me, or do a lot of other pseudo-experts say that, too? “Once, when I was… whatever.”

    • 180

      Kill them with kindness and you will find people not only treat you kinder but learn to respect some of what you say.

      I’ve found (and learned it in a psychology book) that if you first acknowledge the person’s worth and idea (“That’s a very interesting idea! I’m concerned about…”), they are more willing to at least discuss their motivation or thoughts and it may have merit. Some people are not good with verbal communication and a comment such as “I don’t care for that color” could be rooted in how it is creating an emotional response within them. Yes, sometimes it has no bearing on the consumer demographic, but, as a person, their emotional response may have big impact. With some people you need to draw out the right information through the right questions as if you were creating a creative brief to start an assignment/project. Never count on people being able to communicate their true vision through the spoken word. “Make it pop” means different things to different people. As someone mentioned in another post, getting them to show you examples always helps. We are dealing with a visual product, so visual examples really help.

      At one employer, a greeting card company, they had lettering artists who would handle the type on all cards but I was allowed to do my own type (having come from heavy-type experience in my career). When in an approval committee, the lettering artists would sit with his or her arms crossed and at the very end of the comments would add, “move the type up an eighth of an inch.”

      One LA laughed out loud after saying something similar and proudly announced, when the committee looked at him, that he had to say something to legitimize his job. It was the editors who usually had the best insight into was the type readable by the consumer, while we designers, art directors and lettering artists were more drawn to the “look.” Sometimes they didn’t. Human foibles abound.

      I once lost it at a lettering artist for sitting with a pissed-off look on her face when I walked into an approval meeting. She asked for the type to be moved up one sixteenth on an inch. I smiled and nodded. She shot back that she was going to check to make sure I did it and I replied that moving the type up (on a white page with plenty of white space around the paragraph of type) a sixteenth of an inch had saved the card. She was never easy to deal with after that. Lesson learned — two taps on the up arrow are easier than letting people know they are morons.

      Thanks for participating!

  93. 181

    “The client may pay for the work, but who takes the blame when the client campaign fails miserably because the client did not listen to the advice of the designer?”

    I always try to educate my committee/client about why I’m suggesting a certain approach or why a certain approach is a really bad idea. I keep at it til I’m certain they truly understand the issue. If they still want to go with their idea, I tell them I’ll do it how they want but lay out the negative impacts I expect… and I have gone so far as to put that negative impact on paper and have them sign off on it as a risk they’re willing to take, and that fixing it later will cost extra. It’s the legal equivalent of “don’t come crying to me. I’ll just say I told you so. Ready to pay me to fix it?”

    • 182

      Great point, but the usual SOP is to blame the designer who did it and hire someone else to fix it. I am usually the guy they come to as a fixer (I prefer “Cleaner”) but as I listen to the stories of how the previous creative “screwed up,” I can se where the problem lay and quote VERY high to fix it. If they bite, it’s enough money to put up with them. Naturally between not wanting to part with 50% up front, deal with a contract or even pay my fee, it never goes forward.

      Just keep moving forward with your vision to the future.

  94. 183

    Steve Naidamast

    July 1, 2010 1:46 pm

    As a senior software engineer (35+ years in the field), I can relate to everything that was pointed out in this post.

    Creating software for users should be simple and succinct. For years I was able to hold to that conviction and as a result I was able to make my development efforts easy to use and simple to learn.

    Now with every young technician who is mesmerized with Web 2.0, all I hear about is the necessity for users to have “enhanced user experiences” as if we are creating video games in the corporate environment. Now instead of creating easy to use software I am asked to create bloatware with features my younger supervisors are convinced will be required in some time zone in the far flung feature by a single client. Meanwhile I can’t get my software out the door in time for what is needed now since all of these “features” take time to develop and test to make sure that they don’t conflict with each other or otherwise cause problems. No problem of course since so many younger technicians also think that if they wave a magic wand of some type the work will get done like greased lightening… and without a single defect…

    The latest in a long litany of “stupid” design decisions was in my current project where I was asked to develop a file-swapping mechanism for my application that would copy files from one application server to another remote server so that they could load faster upon renewed calls to have these files displayed to the user. So we may have a server in California while we have one in New York with each requesting the files from each of the servers.

    The fact that such a situation would rarely occur didn’t even register with the technician who came up this brilliant conception.

    I suggested that the client simply use high-speed hosting services like other companies do thus negating the need for such nonsense. Needless to say, that suggestion fell on deaf ears…

  95. 184

    This article can be applied to many open source project with interesting observations. Most of the successful open source project have a benevolent dictator like Linus or Guido who prevents feature creep in projects. I believe this is also the reason that open source projects are not known for their elegant UIs. Of course, it is mostly programmer designer rather than by a professional UI designer. But the creation of radically new UI paradigms is almost sure to be killed by dissenting voices in the community.

    In other words, I’m not sure if open source design has many success stories.

  96. 185

    The beauty of the creative mind, is not in its ability to temper visual acuity but rather an uncanny ability to convincingly repackage abstract thought and sell them to the mouths of others.

    Great article. Thanks

  97. 186

    Leah and Tyson, that is exactly the question I was going to pose. Everyone thinks they are experts at marketing because they are marketed to. But do people sit around and critique coders because they want to “make it better?” Marketing and branding never gets the respect as a skill that it deserves and it drives me insane.

    I just wrote a new book called Branding Basics for Small Business (Norlights Press, 2010 where I quote one of my favorite creative directors who taught me a lot back in my ad agency days. I have a section of the book in which I explain that design is a skill: a skill that involves taking a concept and communicating it visually, perhaps even subconsciously. It’s not the job of your nephew, or the guy in IT who simply knows how to use Illustrator. It’s a skill. I know this from my own work with clients and its why I partner with great designers who know what they are doing. But years ago, I asked this creative director why, if taste was subjective, why we couldn’t just make a little tweak here and there per the client’s request? They were, after all, footing the bill. He sighed and said, “Yes, but there are certain design truths and ways the human eyey processes information and we can’t fight that. It’s our job to know this and stop the client from making a bad decision. Otherwise what are they paying us for?” I’ve never forgotten this lesson.

    • 187

      I’ve used the “color promotes an emotional response” before, such as fast food environments as an example, but I truly like the eye processing. I will probably throw in the “eye and the brain” and still lean on emotions for color, but for layout, type and logo size relationships, it’s a great way to explain to the layperson what we do and how we do it. Then, when they explain how they once got second place in a finger painting contest and know how to do that “eye, brain thingy,” I can smile and blow my brains out.

      Thanks responding and for sharing the great tip!

  98. 188

    “Sooner or later they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent (their “level of incompetence”), and there they remain, being unable to earn further promotions. This principle can be modeled and has theoretical validity. Peter’s Corollary states that “in time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out his duties” and adds that “work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.”

    ^Utter bullshit, otherwise known as “Post hoc ergo propter hoc”
    Not only is the initial postulation invalid, it is provably and observably so.
    Of course, we often tend to latch on to the first piece of evidence that fits our preconceived notions, then automatically exclude the conflicting proofs that follow.
    As far as promotions are concerned, in reality, most people arent promoted at all, and many times people are incompetent to begin with – not as a result of a promotion. Furthermore, many of these “design committees” are composed by people who are NOT designers. (but people from “Stake holders” drafted to represent their primary stake holding departments, and whom often have no decision making power whatsoever)

    The flaw is on you, as a designer, by not sufficiently limiting audience to your meeting(s), or not focusing the expectations and deliverables – both of the meeting and of the product in general.

    Establish your design and development methodology in your contract document!
    Explain how your meetings are going to be conducted and what behavior is expected.

    It may be best therefore to NOT have a “design meeting”
    , but have a fact finding meeting, a basic requirements meeting, a timeline setting meeting (perhaps including cost limits as well) and finally, a user interface practices specification.

    There, we decide the necessity and rigid/loose adherence to concepts like ‘accessibility’, ‘internationalization’, ‘valid html/css’.

    Doing this BEFORE getting into the UI allows us to avoid much injected bs, as most bs would run afoul of defined rules, established earlier.
    Committees are fine, when used appropriately and presented in a proper context. It is a special skill that can take a gathering of people and get actionable intelligence or define decisions out of the meeting. Clearly defined moderation is a must, ways of getting people to contribute (as opposed to just ‘participating’ are paramount) Setting the stage properly and preparing people to play their part is very important.
    We need to realize that, instead of bawling about ‘committees’ :)

    • 189

      I’m afraid you need to go back and re-read the article as well as the following discussion, which is as much a part of the article and parts I wrote alone. Certainly all opinions are welcome in this article and thread but I’m afraid I don’t see your point through the disconnected rant.

      You write, “Not only is the initial postulation invalid, it is provably and observably so.”

      Prove it! You are dealing with an accepted theory that ever business writer expounds volumes upon. Who are you that roars so boldly at it?

      “As far as promotions are concerned, in reality, most people arent promoted at all, and many times people are incompetent to begin with – not as a result of a promotion.”

      True, but if you were a part of any large corporation, you would see this going on constantly. Usually the practice is to hire someone under you who is no threat to your position. Where is it that you work so we can all send our resumés?

      “Furthermore, many of these “design committees” are composed by people who are NOT designers. (but people from “Stake holders” drafted to represent their primary stake holding departments, and whom often have no decision making power whatsoever).”

      Tell me something I haven’t written!

      “The flaw is on you, as a designer, by not sufficiently limiting audience to your meeting(s), or not focusing the expectations and deliverables – both of the meeting and of the product in general.”

      Good luck with that! I can see it now; “Speider, I’ve invited a few people to give their opinions on the project.”

      “I’m sorry, but I will only deal with you. If you’d like to pass this around and get opinions and then we can distill them down together, that would be the most efficient method.”

      “You’re fired!”

      “It may be best therefore to NOT have a “design meeting,” but have a fact finding meeting, a basic requirements meeting, a timeline setting meeting (perhaps including cost limits as well) and finally, a user interface practices specification.”

      That’s what we call the initial meeting to create a plan and creative brief. The “design meeting” happens when a creative brings their work in for “review” and that’s what feeds articles such as this.

      “Establish your design and development methodology in your contract document!
      Explain how your meetings are going to be conducted and what behavior is expected.”

      That would work…in fantasyland. This is where a client asks you to be “flexible.” Many of us keep trying that. Occasionally it works, but as some people might observe, it more often than not comes down to the client and what they think should go on with THEIR product.

      I’m not sure if you are attempting to write an article yourself, as some of your points echo mine and some are just beyond anything I have ever heard or witnessed. If that is your ideal situation, for you, then I say bite and kick and scream to get it. Make it your “Holy Grail” of professional business practices and please check in and let us know how it’s working out.

  99. 190

    Funny. Brilliant. I couldn’t agree with you more.

  100. 191

    Client: “Speider, I’ve invited a few people to give their opinions on the project.”

    YOU:“I’m sorry, but I will only deal with you. If you’d like to pass this around and get opinions and then we can distill them down together, that would be the most efficient method.”

    ^?? Why do you presume that your response is the only possible response to that scenario?

    The “design meeting” happens when a creative brings their work in for “review” and that’s what feeds articles such as this.
    ^ Then it is all the more IMPORTANT to define the scope and very nature of this review meeting to properly frame the discussion, such as it is and give yourself every advantage in determining it’s outcome!

    You no doubt may have worked with a large govt agency of some sort where they have sent out RFP’s (request for proposal) or Bid requests on certain projects, but you know that a “certain company” is already targeted to recieve the lucrative contract, the RFP process is all a sham, and the RFP request is carefully structured to tilt the playing field ever so subtly towards the outcome that you want!
    Such banality aside, you still need to -as much as possible- establish the parameters and structure of any discussion (especially as it most likely will be held on ‘hostile’ territory, their office)

    OTHER OPTION: Short “Education session” (5 minutes)
    Show an A/B case study: Two copies of a site
    Engage in a quick discussion against which is “better”.
    Then, show the results: that ‘B’ incredibly outperformed ‘A’ – according to the performance metric THAT WAS DEFINED EARLIER (you did do a performance definition, didnt you?)
    i.e. Click through, time spent on areas, conversions/purchases etc
    What you are attempting to do, obviously, is run a crash course in how to THINK – Think in terms of what actually provides MEASURABLE VALUE to the company!

    “Make it pop” – Great!
    Will we make another $1 in sales? – No? Not so great!

    When the well meaning CEO picks a few random people from his staff “to get a end-user perspective”, quick: Are these people a ‘representative sample of a projected user demographic”?
    You must know!
    It’s particularly dangerous when the CEO type person has a little bit of knowledge, just enough to make it seem like he knows what the hell he is talking about. Being able to properly size up your client is key to establishing the proper relationship!

    Now, you do not want, necessarily, to put people on the spot and highlight their inadequacies, but I do so anyway, in a gentle manner during the meeting introduction stage:
    “Alright, lets get this started:
    Carol comes to us from Account’s Payable – She does not have a formal background in interface design, but is able to offer her experiences navigating the demo as an end-user. She will share any difficulties and concerns she had while doing so.”

    Schnieder has some web experience, having developed a MySpace page Schnieder however, will be reviewing the bulleted design specs and verifying that we have hit our pre-design targets.

    • 192

      Am I the Schneider who designed that wonderful MySpace page or is it my popular name and Schneider works with Carol?

      • 193

        “Schnieder” is used in this web design context in much the way we would use “Mr Maggoo” in visual acuity discussions! :)

      • 195

        Hahaha, this reply made me spit coffee on my desk. Mark obviously works with Steve.

  101. 196

    “This is a “service industry” after all.”

    It’s certainly not, it’s a core business resource, not a service. In the same way as a Marketing team doesn’t provide a ‘service’, but an expertise.

    You’ve actually just perpetuated a wrong-doing.

    /edit/ Maybe you meant ‘perceived as a service industry’?

    Anyway it was a great article, that just jarred with me :)

    • 197

      “It’s certainly not, it’s a core business resource, not a service. In the same way as a Marketing team doesn’t provide a ’service’, but an expertise.”


      One thing I hate is a “Grammar Nazi” that cant read!

      “Plenty of responses advised us to let go and just take the fee and do whatever the client or committee wants. This is a “service industry” after all. One graphic designer wrote:”………

      ^ Note the quotation marks around the phrase, indicating what…can you figure it out?
      Or would you have preferred the author actually draw to fingers up around the phrase (air quotes?)

      If I were drawing any fingers for you, it would only be one, I’m afraid :(

      • 198

        Ye; there’s a big difference between an air quote and a quote. This is print (well, screen), and quotes are used to represent … quotes.

        Air quotes are used by douche’s who can’t form sentences correctly or deliver a line without any sense of sarcasm; in print using double quotations marks is pretty ambiguous.

        I’m from the UK, trust me, I get sarcasm – this on the other hand is ambiguous at best; it’s quite reasonable to assume that the author is quoting a source, or using quotation marks to emphasise the recurring reference to designers being a service; not indicating sarcasm or it being wrong, simply emphasising it.

        If the author, like me, wants to avoid people referring to designers as a service; it’s best to be pretty explicit with this stuff.

  102. 199

    But isnt it a service?
    I mean, c’mon now. All the semantic parsing in the world isnt going to change things is it?

    You may way want to do the whole “Wizard of OZ” green curtain thing, but when its all cooked up and served, the fact is simply that you are presented with “x” you produce “y” (no matter what you perform internally/externally to come up with “Y”) and you get pad “Z”

    Just like a cab driver, your input into the SDLC is just another component on my trip to Malaysia!

    So never mind, I’ll call you an “Executive Assistant”, now go make me my damn coffee! (playfully slaps James on the rump, eliciting a giggle and squeal) :)

  103. 200

    To answer the past few comments would take the length of an article, so wait for me to write it and have it posted.

    Thanks for joining the discussion but let’s keep it calm and collected.

  104. 201

    “It’s certainly not, it’s a core business resource, not a service. In the same way as a Marketing team doesn’t provide a ’service’, but an expertise.”

    hey.. you better make ME a cup of coffee too!

  105. 202

    Nicole Bauer

    July 6, 2010 1:33 am

    It’s really relieving that I’m not the only one struggling with this every day. ^^
    A while ago I’ve read a great article where the author compared designing by committee with a doctor: it’s as if you have your appendix removed and then you ask everyone you meet if they think the doctor has done a good job.
    People would never do that because they think doctors must have the expertise to do it right, but when it comes to design EVERYONE thinks they have expertise and therefore the right to make changes.

    I think sometimes it can be helpful when you get a lot of feedback, but at the end of the day the designer should be the one to make the final decision.

    • 203

      I believe that was one of my articles, too. Was this the first paragraph?

      “I needed my appendix removed so while being wheeled into surgery, I told the doctor I only budgeted $200 for the operation but if I liked his work, I had other organs he could remove down the line at a higher fee. I asked if he wouldn’t mind if I had a few people look over his work and make some suggestions on how he performed the operation. One of them was my 10 year-old son because he was a whiz at the game “Operation.” When I came to, I was in the gutter wearing nothing but a hospital gown and my appendix still rupturing.”

      The rest is here:

  106. 204



    *No lie nor hyperbole. I have worked in the Medical Industry for 20+ years :(

  107. 205

    I think you have to focus less on how the creatives’ are the ones always taking input they don’t want and focus more on the basic problem. Had the secretary gathered the rote technical skills needed to deliver a design, if she could have done it without any creatives and others muddling with it the result could have been as good as a creatives’ design done without similar muddling. The problem is that vision can’t result from herding cats.

    • 206

      “Had the secretary…” but she didn’t and that’s the point. She had no eye for design, ability to manage the project (which is why the fee increased so quickly) and aside from a dishonest professional attitude which included lying to her boss, she just thought being a creative…an art director, was a key to hold power over others. That’s a common but still horrific desire for humans.

      If I touched on the basic problem any further, I would need therapy and heavy medication.

  108. 207

    James Fenton

    July 8, 2010 4:38 am

    My personal favourite that I’ve received is:

    ‘Its too… er … too designy! Can you make it edgyer!’

  109. 208

    James Fenton
    July 8th, 2010 4:38 am

    My personal favourite that I’ve received is:

    ‘Its too… er … too designy! Can you make it edgyer!’”

    It’s one of my favorites as well, specifically because it is so easy to remedy!

    Most times with clients, there is NO PROBLEM – other than a Cool Hand Luke issue : “What we have here is a failure to communicate!”

    What does “designy” mean?
    That the lines look to contrived? In nature, there is never a perfect *anything* when viewed close up, it is only when seen from a distance does the perfect recursive fractals of river delta present itself. Lines are too straight, colors to ‘pure’. Using subtle gradients, grunginess, a background “bluish” image repeated x,y vs a #FFEE00 goes a long way to smoothing out that oft sterile perfection which people approach then recoil from.

    Maintaining a nice grid pattern then abruptly departing from it for one element makes it ‘pop’ – the effect can be jarring/disconcerting or edgy/dynamic, depending on context, relevance for the approach, and client/user point of view.

    Looking forward to an insightful article on communication from the Speidermensch himself, with perhaps a Client “garble-speak”/Designer English translator!

  110. 209

    Roberto Blake

    July 8, 2010 12:31 pm

    This is honestly one of the best and most well thought out articles I’ve read in a long time. I’ve been subjected to “Design by Committee” more times than I can count. It needs to die.

  111. 210

    Chicken Awesome

    July 9, 2010 10:50 am

    Great article. Here is a nice example of a what you’re talking about:

  112. 211

    Speider, you nailed it. I’ve had my stuff pecked and gutted by committees since forever.

    But here’s a flip side to consider.

    What if a client (or committee) said, “You have free reign. Whatever you design, we will implement. Without change, without comment. What you say, goes. We’ll then meet up in 30 days. You get full credit, or full blame, for whatever happens, in terms of sales, web hits, page views, sign-ups, customer comments, whatever.”

    Clients did that to me a few times. Shut me right up. All of a sudden, I’m thinking of disclaimers and caveats and out-of-my-control, footnotes and asterisks.

    Committees save us from having to put our stuff on the line like that.

  113. 212

    Walt K “Committees save us from having to put our stuff on the line like that.”

    Spoken like a true pussy.

    • 213

      Speider Schneider

      July 11, 2010 11:40 pm

      Play nicely, please! We are all entitled to our opinion and they are all welcomed in this forum.

      • 214

        I meant that in the cute, furry feline way! (NOT in the cute furry “not feline” way :)

        I’ve been the happy recipient of two such ‘Carte Blanche’ projects and cried happy tears of joy. Arent those moments that we live for?

        • 215

          Speider Schneider

          July 12, 2010 10:27 am

          Be thankful if you can use the word “moment” as plural.

  114. 216

    Read these lines somewhere & they fit here perfectly.
    “My creativity wasn’t killed. It was tortured & then hung till death”.

  115. 217

    Another excellent article at Smashing Magazine, this one will definitely get a bookmark :)
    As a freelance designer I’ve been in that same situation, I would like to share my advice on the matter:

    My first rule when dealing with difficult committees is the “time is money rule”. If the design/review process equals the amount of hours I would’ve spent delivering a finished product with a less complicated client I let the client go. After that point is a loss/loss situation anyway, the client loses money by not having a finished design and you’re wasting valuable time. Under no circumstances you should throw an “artsy fit”. I usually tell my clients “I think you need a better person for this job, someone with more experience in your particular field”. If you work in-house, you can use this rule by reminding the committee they have already spent too much time reviewing a design and that equals to money lost on not having something done.

    The other rule is the “surgeon rule” which is reminding them the reason why they hired you in the first place : They needed you because you know better than they do. There’s many approaches for this scenario, the most convenient I think, is to show them successful stories (specially involving their competition) done “your way”, or if you feel bold, you can go straight to the surgeon tale and tell them: “if this wasn’t a design but a heart surgery, would you let someone who’s not a surgeon to have the final word on what to do?, then why you let people with no expertise on this field overrule the whole process by turning their advice into monolithic commands?”

    None of the above means you should never listen to client’s feedback, in the end you’re being paid to do what they want, not what you think it should be done, but it’s really easy to identify those jobs where the design is stuck in a loop process: the third time your client says “let’s try this to see how it looks” be prepared, because you’re heading straight to that loop.

    UPDATE: I finished reading the comments and noticed someone already brought the “surgeon rule” teehee…

  116. 218

    So, you write this article…then 2 months later post this:

    Should we design by committee or kill them?
    Make up your mind Smashing Mag!

  117. 219

    I want to both hug you and cry at the same time. Thank you for describing my work life & letting me know that I am not alone.

  118. 220

    There are times when I’ve created what I KNOW is the perfect solution and then it’s time to make the client happy. I truly believe that many of the changes I’ve made to my work is so that the person in charge can have his thrill that the logo was designed by the two of us. “James and I did this!” he exclaims when the piece comes back from the printer.

    What do I do in order to stay sane? I take the design I did before the goons chimed in and changed it all and THAT’S what goes in the portfolio. The portfolio that always takes me to a new job, more money and new design monkeys in committee.

  119. 221

    What about all the research that claims a diverse staff generates a unique team dynamic that is more wide-ranging in its scope, breadth, and depth, and thus better equipped to tackle complex problems and challenges?
    “According to Scott E. Page, author of The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies , some of the most striking divergences can be seen in the areas of problem-solving, conflict resolution, and creativity. In these three crucial skill sets, diverse groups have been shown consistently to outperform their homogenous counterparts.”
    Multiple opinions and feedback has proven to be just as effective as “Product should be a dictatorship, not consensus-driven”.

  120. 222

    Alan Whittington

    November 1, 2011 9:47 pm

    When “Design by Committee” fails I believe it’s because it’s true potential was not realised and may have even been undermined by those who hold a cynical opinion of it.

    In my experience I can think of many examples where something had unnecessary flaws or shortcomings because of a lack of input form those who will actually be the ones using it.

    While I don’t dispute the examples given in the article above, I also believe that to foresee countless scenarios when designing something can often be beyond any one person or team.

    Let’s turn the perspective around… Can anyone think of examples where broad input has lead to a better outcome? I can.

    How about open source software or Wikipedia?

    The author mentioned the iPhone. One of the greatest strengths of the iPhone is it’s App Store that is filled with hundreds of thousands of apps created by millions of people. No one person or team could have created this.

    The Earth its self is the ultimate design by committee, yes it’s complex but it’s also near perfect. More perfect than anything created by an individual. (Disregard this point if you believe in God).

    I regard design by committee as being like the light bulb, it didn’t work first time for Edison, not because it was a flawed concept but because he didn’t initially find how to make it work. In fact it took him 10,000 attempts before he cracked it. But there was no going back to candles once he had.

    I’m convinced there is immense power in collaboration and the collective conscience… it just needs to be harnessed the right way.

    • 223

      I think your comment is missing the point, big time.

      Things like Wikipedia are generated by groups, yes, sometimes collaboratively. But the best articles are created by the EXPERTS in those fields. Say there’s an article about typography – do you think that the typeface designer or the corporate secretary would do a better job at writing the article? Or that the article could be bettered by the secretary changing the type designers article about Helvetica? She’d likely add in “Helvetica is boring, I like Comic Sans”.

  121. 224

    I had to come and read this article after completing version umpteenth of a simple gift Tag that’s apparently urgent. Each iteration redesigned by proxy, by committee.

    The bold baseless statements extend to moving a barcode “a bit up” while the printer screams in a void for the artwork to get to press.

    Not one comment on the stock images used. Purely pointless changes to relatively insignificant bits of type.

    The only way around it either a zillion options. Or designing in a change. One obvious omission or error, logo too big, too small etc. Thus the decision maker is validated the core design is left in tact. Sadly not every design lends itself to this approach.

    A design team can comprise different skillsets and professional experience. This isn’t what we’re railing against its precisely the example of the appendix removal.

  122. 225

    This article nails a couple of things perfectly. I’ve had to sit and listen to the opinion of stakeholders who don’t understand the subtlety and complexities of what is trying to be achieved on numerous occasions and it does get my ruddy goat. My problem is not so much with ‘Design By Committee’, (I love ideation and iterative design with informed colleagues and designers) as it is with designing for ‘Wannabe Designers’ who have a passing interest in playing designer for the day to get out of answering emails.


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