“A CAMEL IS A HORSE
DESIGNED BY A
COMMITTEE” — Sir Alec Issigonis
Most people don’t like to work on projects that are Design by Committee. The road ahead suddenly looks dim when there is a realization that a group of people will be convening to give their subjective opinions.
How many times have designers dropped off a proposed plan that was well received in the initial introduction; however, received the call the next day with a critic that was made by a family member that isn’t even involved in the company project?
From my personal experience, it has can be challenging working on Design by Committee projects that have little to know structure. Having worked on multiple projects that incorporate creative thinking, creative solutions, organizational dynamics, communication skills, and artists from all mediums, I designed a system that is easy to use and works well for groups that are working together to develop creative solutions.
If you use this organizational tool, please give me feedback on ways to improve the process by commenting or emailing.
Another similar resource using a different approach to navigate a design-by-committee including the history and how and why they fail can be found at sixrevisions.com: How to Navigate Design by Committee by Andrew Follett.
1. Identify the committee’s charge or objective.
It is critical to take the time to define the necessary objective that the committee members will be responsible for achieving. The initial charge, responsibility or duty of the committee should be clearly defined and limited in scope. If there are multiple objectives, they should be addressed separately so the committee can focus acutely on each initiative.
Example 1: Healthcare design committee is charged with the task of art selection for patient’s rooms.
Example 2: The committee is being charged with developing a mission statement.
Example 3: The committee is charged with developing creative solutions to increase member donors.
“The brain constantly receives new inputs and needs to store some of them in the same head already occupied by previous experiences. It makes sense of its world by trying to connect new information to previously encountered information…present knowledge can bleed into past memories and become intertwined with them as if they were encountered together. The typical human brain can hold about seven pieces of information for less than 30 seconds! If something does not happen in that short stretch of time, the information becomes lost.” Brain Rules by John Medina
1. Identify all the end users:
The committee should identify the end-users. Good behavioral design should be human-centered, focusing upon understanding and satisfying the needs of the people who actually use the product.
In Example 1 above, the primary end-user would obviously be the patient; however, patient’s family and friends along with clergy will also interact as an end-user. Identify the characteristics of your end-user using statistics where possible such as demographics, psychographics and lifestyle segmentation.
“Our broader culture tends to prize L-Directed Thinking more highly than its counterpart, taking this approach more seriously and viewing the alternative as useful but secondary. But this is changing – and it will dramatically reshape our lives. Left-brain-style thinking used to be the driver and right –brain-style thinking the passenger. Now, R-Directed Thinking is suddenly grabbing the wheel, stepping on the gas, and determining where we’re going and how we’ll get there.” A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink.
1. Identify the fundamental function:
What is the purpose of the project, product or services being designed? Compile relevant information that will enhance the end-user experiences.
In Example 1, it is the intention of the artwork to enhance a patient’s recovery process. It may also need to meet the design standards of the hospital using Evidence-based art practices.
“Many design professionals focus on appearance, in part because this is what can be appreciated from a distance and, of course, all that can be experience in advertising or marketing photograph or print illustration Most designs fail because designers and engineers are often self-centered. Because most people are unaware of their true needs, discovering them requires careful observations in their natural environment. The trained observer can often spot difficulties and solutions that even the person experiencing them does not consciously recognize.” Emotional Design by Donald A. Norman
A university was expanding the campus with new facilities. When it was time to decide on where to place the sidewalks, the university president was reluctant to make a decision at the frustration of many of the contractors. After the buildings were built and the students had an opportunity to use the facilities – he allowed the sidewalks to be poured and instructed the contractors to follow the paths the students had already made on the property.
1. Identify current challenges and obstacles:
Ask why is there a need for a new system, product, program or service? Identify the problems or challenges with the current situation or identify what is missing that needs designed. A bucket list or punch-list of items will be helpful when reviewing alternative and creative solutions.
Example 1, challenges and obstacles may include budget restraints along with intrinsic functions such as cleaning the artwork in a health care environment, securing the work so it is safe. Additionally, the challenge may be in finding images that meet Evidence-based art practices.
“When we analyze a big, complicated problem -- like malnutrition in Vietnam, or a married couple nearing divorce, or a business on the verge of bankruptcy -- we seek a solution that befits the scale of the problem. If the problem is a round hole with a 24-inch diameter, our brains will go looking for a 24-inch peg to fill it. So, naturally, the experts on malnutrition in Vietnam wanted to talk about poverty and education and sanitation systems.
Our focus, in times of change, goes instinctively to the problems at hand. What's broken and how do we fix it? This troubleshooting mind-set serves us well -- most of the time. If you run a nuclear power plant and your diagnostics turn up a disturbing signal once per month, you should most certainly obsess about it and fix the problem. And if your child brings home a report card with five As and one F, it makes sense to freak out about the F.
But in times of change, this mind-set will backfire. If we need to make major changes, then (by definition) we don't have a near-spotless report card. A lot of things are probably wrong. The "report card" for our diet, or our marriage, or our business, is full of Cs and Ds and Fs. So if you ask yourself, What's broken and how do I fix it?, you'll simply spin your wheels. You'll spend a lot of time agonizing over issues that are TBU.
When it's time to change, we must look for bright spots -- the first signs that things are working, the first precious As and Bs on our report card. We need to ask ourselves a question that sounds simple but is, in fact, deeply unnatural: What's working and how can we do more of it?” Switch: Don’t Solve Problems—Copy Success by Dan and Chip Heath
1. Enter a brainstorm session:
Creative types like to introduce their ideas. Each member of the committee should have the opportunity to speak independently without interruption. The facilitator should determine the length of time given to each member when they have the floor and discourage any cross-talking or “conversation”. Interest should be given to provide a “safe” environment for members to expose radical ideas and concepts without negative feedback. Every idea and concept should be validated and recorded.
“Human decisions can be about outcomes as large as whether to take a job, or as small as what to have for dinner. In such situations, our brains are called upon to integrate extremely disparate types of information. Unfortunately, our brains are not naturally equipped to do a good job at integrating complex quantitative facts, probably because they evolved primarily to negotiate social situations and survive natural threats, not to do quantitative puzzles. Classical economic reasoning assumes that individuals are able to evaluate costs and benefits rationally, but the brain’s methods of estimation are not good at making such valuations. The payoffs of extremely low-probability events, such as winning the lottery, do not appear to be represented accurately in the brain. If we don’t have any intuitive idea of what it means when a probability is below, say, one in one hundred, then the incredible unlikelihood of a lottery payout is not scored rationally. Even though long-term losses are virtual certainty, just one anecdotal story of a big winner remains a motivating factor that is weighted out of all proportion to any reasonable expectations. So people persist in buying lottery tickets, a fact exploited by financially strapped governments everywhere.” Welcome to Your Brain by Sandra Aamodt
1. Select the top optimal solution from the brainstorming list and evaluate the outcome through the Design by Committee process assessing the possibilities through steps 1 through 4.
The committee should collectively select the top optimal solutions or concepts generated from the brainstorming session. Process the prospective solutions through the same process by evaluating the potential outcomes and how they measure up against the identified objectives as they relate to function and end-user needs.