Design by Committee

"A camel is a horse designed by a committee." - Anonymous

Many great works have been designed by committee. The aerospace industry produces incredibly well designed and engineered products on a regular basis. Projects like the F-35 Lightning II are the product of years of design and production that involve a horde of people and companies working under a common vision and mission.

Technically we at Keystone don't have a problem with 'design by committee.' We use the technique ourselves. Nearly every IT and website project we undertake involves input from our customer and multiple people from within the Keystone team that cover a variety of disciplines. Goals for the project are always at the forefront of our decision-making process and guide the content, technical, and design aspects of each website.

Where problems with 'design by committee' occur is when that committee has been completely absent from the planning process. At Keystone, we occasionally find ourselves in this circumstance. We work with one person representing the company that has contracted us to build a website. Much later in the process, that person is tasked with presenting our work to a committee or board in their organization.

Here are the problems:

Bad timing.

That committee isn't aware of the mission, vision, goals, and decisions that determined the website's strategy, design and functionality. Now, they are in the position to give opinions and offer suggestions based on a drive-by review of the finished product. Sometimes this results in all thumbs-up. Typically, though, there are a few opinions that, if implemented, could significantly change the design of the site at exactly the wrong time.

Biased views.

Employees and others affiliated with the organization are often highly critical of their websites (as they should be). However, we find that people tend to get hung up on little details that don't affect user experience. It is important to look at the website as a customer, not as an employee or someone who already knows everything about the website.

Limited experience.

Sure everyone has experience using websites and most can even tell which websites they like and which they don't, but can they tell you why? And should you trust their opinions? After all the strategy, competitive review, and user experience debate during planning and design, be careful who you ask. Trust the process and the decisions you helped make about your website.

Here's what we recommend:

Gather your committee early.

We have no problems working with several people from an organization. Most projects we work on include two or three people from an organization. We suggest an internal discussion on the people that have the knowledge, expertise and drive to create a damn good website. We also recommend the committee contain a handful of qualified people that want to work on the project.

Ask for opinions at key points during the process.

Your CFO might not have the time or energy to serve on the website redesign committee. That doesn't mean he or she doesn't want a say or doesn't have an opinion. We encourage you to ask what key people think. Just do it at the right times (planning process, homepage approval, buildout approval, etc.). Don’t wait until the end. And remember, the more people you ask, the more opinions you receive. These opinions are rarely the same, which means you’ve just invited in more chaos.

Ask why.

We, at Keystone, don't make arbitrary, baseless decisions. We are happy to explain our reasoning, listen to your concerns (or those of your committee), and even help you explain the decisions to others. The only dumb question is the one not asked, as they say. And you'll have to work really, really hard to hurt our feelings.

Going through the process of creating a website strategy and design and then asking your CFO what they think is the equivalent of asking me what I think about the design of the F-35. "Bad-ass. Nice work, fellas. Needs more guns and bombs...maybe paint some lightning on the wing and a shark's mouth on the front."

Committees can be good. Just make sure they are small and contain qualified people. Opinions can be good. Just make sure you ask qualified people at the right times. Otherwise, you'll end up with a camel when you wanted a horse.