How to Design By Committee

When you hear news stories about countries brokering a peace deal, there are usually more people involved than the ones shaking hands in front of the camera. That’s because when many people with different, sometimes opposing agendas come to the table, it takes multiple rounds and multiple approaches to get anything close to an agreeable result.

Maybe that’s a bit dramatic for a comparison with designing marketing collateral, but if you’ve even been caught in the crosshairs of upper management’s art direction and graphic designers on deadline, you have felt the stress. Everyone wants to be provided with an environment for success, so here are a few insights to take into that next “brainstorming” meeting.


Straight Talk

Ask for feedback that is specific and then communicate exactly what was said without editorializing. Offer feedback that walks the line right down the middle and is not too complimentary nor too harsh. If either the design or the copy isn’t what was asked for, learn what limitations you have to work with. Then, inform the rest of them as objectively as possible, what those limitations are.

It is very important that optimism remain in your voice because creativity gets poisoned and can die a slow death with negativity. Even when the situation is challenging, try to present critiques from management back to the designer with a neutral tone of voice and as little sarcasm as humanly possible.

Manage Expectations/Deadlines

Here is where mistakes get made. Designers will submit a proof, which then gets put before management for review. However, 9 times out of 10, no one has actually read the text in the proof. They only looked at the design. Someone needs to look at the text and make corrections, even if management is going to change that text. Typos that appear in early proofs have a funny way of surviving through until production.

Since almost every job is rushed, those acting as diplomats between the designers and management should keep a calendar in front of them at all times. Make sure all parties know when to expect feedback and when revisions and final versions are due. It’s tempting to deliver bad news at the last minute, but this tactic should be avoided at all costs.

Don’t Settle

Let’s be honest. When a piece of marketing collateral is designed by committee, it generally turns out like a soup with too many ingredients that don’t go well together. Someone needs to fall on his or her sword and bring that to everyone’s attention. The eyes that will see that piece won’t know the drama behind putting it together. They will only see the end result is a mess. Don’t let that happen. Even for a digital product. Find out what elements are negotiable and seek out the most creative solution within the limited timeframe you have. (Hint: you’ll most likely find success by editing down, and simplifying what you have already gotten approved.)