the IdeasBlog

Design by Committee


This article was inspired by a question on Quora: “How do experienced user interface designers deal with “UI design by committee” where absolutely everyone has had an input into the “design”?

To be clear:

This exercise has nothing to do with Design and everything to do with Politics.

Therefore, your agenda is:

  1. Identify the power broker(s)
  2. Craft you approach to the target individual (‘Personas’ might be useful)
  3. alternatively ] Play multiple power brokers off each other (a trickier stratagem, but far more amusing)

There is always, of course, the ‘suicidal option’:

[ jazz hands ]

Better Solutions

Another contributor made this suggestion:

“… establish your creditably and authority up front by establishing a design process and clear method for making design decisions and for determining who, in the case of disagreement, will make the final call.”

Can’t disagree with this approach. Then there’s reality.

Establishing “credibility and authority up front” is a tempting assumption – and one that deserves exploration. By the same token, the client/enterprise management is rarely willing to cede that power over a product … without plenty of caveats.

In any case – If we’re already at the “design by committee” stage, then the “credibility and authority” assumption is a tough haul. i.e. How do you dis-empower a privileged stakeholder?

Another suggestion:

“If all other design forces are met, and we still have two valid options for the design, then we will escalate to the user for a decision…  if there is still disagreement or uncertainty, we ask the users either in a focus group, one on one interview, with a survey, or an A/B study.”

It’s wonderful if you have the time (and budget) to test each and every opinion on the committee, but…

How do you effectively communicate “I’m sorry, but that particular opinion has already been tested and disproved many times over. Do we really have the resource to pursue this?

Consider that the budget for testing is usually small-if-not-non-existent to begin with.

Many powerful stakeholders feel justified in interceding in the design process both to save budget/time and because they “know the market”.

Let’s just admit that the phrase “design by committee” is pretty much an admission of a seriously compromised situation. Recovering good process at that point is iffy, at best.

I appreciate the politics of deferring team boundary conflicts to “the user”, however…

Users are helpful in Testing design prototypes, but not in Design itself.



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