Opinions are not equal – Decision by committee plagues all designers sooner or later in their careers.
Life is great when you’re creating something, and you’re handing it over to someone who is in charge and has the authority to provide feedback or sign it off.
But the time will come when you will have to present your ideas to a committee – so they can make decisions together. TOGETHER.
And there’s nothing more frustrating than a group of ill-informed decision makers who have been brought together for what seems to be no other reason than to make your life difficult, while offering no constructive criticism at all.
They try to claim that everyone’s input is treated equally. And, to be frank, that’s just plain ridiculous. Worse still, it encourages people to offer their opinions. People feel that they HAVE to give an opinion, purely because they have been invited to the meeting to do just that. Even if they don’t have anything constructive or useful to say.
But the cold hard truth is, people’s opinions aren’t equally valued. Nor should they be. The problem with decision by committee is that, just because everyone has an opinion, it doesn’t mean those opinions are all equal, useful, and valid.
Committees do have their place
Sure, sometimes committees are necessary, if they represent a certain group within a company, for example.
There might be someone representing marketing, someone representing sales, and someone representing customer service. And that’s fine, because these departments all have an active role to play in the decision. But all too often, that’s not how decision by committee works.
8 Personality Types in a Committee
You’ll probably encounter some of these characters on your committee:
Someone who has absolutely no idea what they’re talking about, but they want to pick the very best parts of all your examples and mash them together into something they can call their own. They want to take claim over the design.
You know the one. “This is not quite what I had in mind…” “sure, ok, what did you have in mind?” “Well, you’re the expert, you tell me!!” They try to bring you down in front of everyone, but they aren’t prepared to give you their ideas. They know it would sound so stupid, they’re scared to say it.
The person who wants to come in and put their stupid suggestions in just to flex their muscles. You know the ones - “Can you just make that blue, bluer? Can you increase the font by 10%?”
“Oh, wait, wait, wait, can you add this to the concept? I love this, but it’s missing this phrase”. The person who will jam the sh*t out of anything you create and take something nice and elegant, and jam it with everything possible.
Can’t Make Up My Mindo
The one who sits back and says “hmmmm, I’m not sure this is right. Why don’t we go back to version 12 in the third set of revisions you presented?’ They can’t remember what changes they’ve already asked for, they don’t know what they want, they’re just hoping it will jump out at them.
We all know the pisser. You’re showing everyone your awesome piece of work, then out of the blue, they pipe up, “you know what, I just HATE the colour yellow. I don’t care if it’s our brand colour, I just hate it. Can you change it?” No matter how good your work is, they’re just going to piss all over it.
“No,no,no, something more like this.” Everyone’s a designer, but no one can design. This is the person that comes to the meeting and scribbles something down. They bring their own ideas because they think they can do better.
The Wet Rag
You know them. The wishy washy person that says, “it sucks, I can’t explain why, I just don’t like it. It just doesn’t do it for me.” They can’t give you any sort of constructive criticism. The one you just want to kick in the face!
How to win a decision by committee
Don’t get us wrong. It can work. You can get valuable information from the committee. But you’ve got to know how to handle them if you want to keep control. And that means following a process.
- Insist on being there to present. You want to be the one to be there to present your concepts and lead the conversation.
- Position yourself as the expert. This will allow you to lead as the expert, making the others really think about the opinions they’re putting forward.
- Provide history of the project and how you got there. Don’t assume everyone on the committee has the same knowledge and information as your contact.
- Lay out the objectives of the project. Explain what you’re trying the achieve, the problems that you’re trying to fix.
- Present with logic and data wherever possible. Try not to present any sort of personal opinions. The more data, the less important people’s opinions are, meaning the less likely they are to try and voice them. It takes someone pretty ballsey to speak up against data and logic.
- Have a plan. Know what you want to achieve and keep the conversation moving forwards towards the end goal.
- Keep it polite and listen. You’re not going to always have the answers. Be prepared to listen and help solve their problems. Never, ever make it personal.
Winning a decision by a committee isn't just about convincing them to think like you do. It's to keep the project moving in the right direction. And as the expert, it's your job to keep the project on course and treat the group as 1. It may be a struggle, but winning over a group is the best rush a designer can get.