Kate Robbins

I'm begging you, please...

Stop trying to design by committee, collaboration will serve you much better

There might not be an expression I connect with more than, “a camel is a horse designed by committee.” (Well, professionally anyway - it'd be weird if I connect with that on a personal level somehow.) When it comes to group designing a product, truer words have never been spoken. That said, it is typical to work with more than a single designer and/or stakeholder for every project — passing iteration after iteration to a dozen people who all feel like their viewpoint is THE. MOST. IMPORTANT. So how in the name of Sir Alexander Issigonis do you avoid ending up with that forsaken camel which no one wants to ride?!

Determine the main goal. Every project should be trying to achieve a goal. If you don't have a goal, please stop reading this and reassess everything you're working on. For example, say you're company is designing a website — what should it do and who is the audience? Is it a corporate website geared towards investors, or is it an informational website about a SaaS product and directed to consumers? Once you have your main objective, everything else should come secondary. You will want your consumer to be able to do a multitude of things within the website, but every action and piece of information cannot be the main event. So you must prioritize!

Trust your designers. If you've hired a designer, it's likely that you viewed their portfolio and previous work beforehand. My guess is you liked what you saw, and felt that they would be able to communicate your vision/product/brand with their artistic talents. So let them do what they do best, and have your customers fall in love with their visual creations too! This isn't to say that you shouldn't give feedback — feedback is the crux of collaborative design! Your best bet, however, is to give feedback that is based around the problems you see. “Can you make the logo bigger and the text here red?” Is NOT helpful. Instead of attempting to come up with the visual solution yourself, let the designer know what you think the underlying problem is. “Our main objective on this is for people to see our brand name and then click on the actionable text, and I'm not sure this achieves that.” You've hired the designer to come up with the solution, remember?

Let the designer solve the problem. Let's use another animal oriented phrase for this next bit, because why not? “There are more ways than one to skin a cat.” When you have a problem that needs solving, there's often multiple solutions and not always a clear winner. Mathematically, 1 + 3 = 4 just as much as 2 + 2 = 4. If the designer comes up with a solution that's different from what you were thinking, be open to it and let them defend their solution. It may just turn out that the solution “FourPlusZero” — in a captivating hand–drawn font you've never seen — is the design that clicks best with your audience.

Keep the collaboration to a minimum. I understand you want the chiefs of [fill in every company department here], your highly opinionated lead developer, Karen from HR, and Karen's dog (the company mascot) to weigh in — but let's be honest, the dog will probably give the most useful feedback here. (Sorry, Karen.) By keeping your team limited to the essential stakeholders, you will reduce friction and iterations, while being more likely to come out with a product that achieves all your goals.

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