There is Such a Thing as Too Much Input

Jul 9, 2018 | The Business of Design

“A camel is a horse designed by a committee.”
Sir Alec Issigonis

If there’s one truth I’ve learned in working with clients over the years, it’s this:

Too much input can ruin a good thing.

I know, I know. The idea is that the more people a concept or product has to be approved by, the more mistakes will be caught, the more refined it will be, etc. But in practice? Time and again this has proven not true. Generally, the more people involved, the more egos involved, and the more conflicting opinions that all demand to be satisfied. Never mind that half of the people are basing their feedback on personal preferences rather than stated design objectives or brand touchpoints, which is never a good idea when it comes to designing for your business (Seriously. Read here, here, and here).

The result? A design that is not cohesive, not a good fit for the business, and/or has been so stripped of unique aspects that you might as well have not hired a designer at all.

Luckily, I’ve managed to move my design business away from situations like this for the most part. This is partly due to the brand exploration I walk all clients through before doing any logo work or the like. It helps make sure all parties are on the same page regarding what we’re trying to accomplish and communicate in a design.

It’s also partly due to my temperament as a designer; I will absolutely tell a client if what they are requesting is a bad idea and doesn’t fit our stated objectives. Usually I can find an alternate way to fix whatever’s bothering them while keeping the project on track.

But it’s also due to a point I started putting in all proposals and contracts. It reads like this:

“There will be ONE designated person that all proofs are sent to and all revisions requests shall come from. This person needs to see that any other people with input come to a solid consensus, and only then send revision requests. This avoids conflicting requests and unnecessary back and forth.”

I understand that committees are inevitable in some situations. When you’re no longer a solopreneur and have other people running a business with you, of course you need to consult them on major design decisions like your logo and visual brand. But by doing the brand exploration first, there are set guidelines to filter input through. And by requesting a point person, that feedback has already been hashed out and narrowed down before it gets to me. No more emails from three different people at the same company requesting three different changes for three different reasons, all conflicting with each other. I truly believe it helps the client focus and drill down, too, knowing they have to go through this step before seeing a revised concept.

It certainly helps the design. My work has gotten better and the client’s level of thrill with the end result has only gone up since I’ve implemented all of the above policies.

So let’s tweak that original statement a bit:

Too much input can ruin a good thing, if it’s not the right kind of input.

When groups of people are on the same page, are weighing their reactions based on clear objectives rather than personal opinions, and when they have a designated point person to communicate their consensus, then the input is actually relevant and helpful. That is the kind of committee I can get behind.

What are your thoughts on design-by-committee? Give me your input. 😉

*Yes, I am aware camels are actually well designed/adapted for their native environment. It’s a bit of a tongue in cheek quote but I think it still gets the point across. If you’re trying to design a new horse and end up with a camel, things have gone horribly awry.



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