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1 April 2018

Why Review-by-Committee Projects Fail

Written by Natasha McDiarmid

With Night Shift, our primary goal is to create things with soul. It’s one of the many reasons why we launched the studio in the first place. We want to build long, healthy relationships with our clients where we’re perceived as a trusted partner, rather than a vendor.

Sam and I have both seen first hand, many companies who were too afraid to trust the judgment of the experts they hired for a big design project and wound up choosing the weaker route due to review-by-committee decisions. A result that is more likely to occur when there is a major lack of trust and you’re perceived as just someone working for them, rather than with them.

What is a Review-by-Committee?

Review-by-committee is a process. It occurs when feedback is conjectured from several people within the company to help steer the vision of the brand and satisfy all parties.

These committees always begin innocently. A few people in a room, percolating ideas, everyone’s voice is heard. Yet, by the time you get to the first round of revisions, the innocence fades and the feedback you’re receiving strays far from the project goal.

The feedback often sounds something like this:

  • My daughter doesn’t get it
  • Our team doesn’t like the colour green
  • Our stakeholders believe this is the best solution
  • We want to use this font we picked ourselves

The Problem

The issue with this feedback is that it isn’t driven by technical know-how, experience, or business and design principles. Instead, it’s rooted in personal bias leaving the designer with a list of revisions that feel arbitrary rather than constructive.

This isn’t to say non-designers shouldn’t provide feedback, or that collaboration is bad, it’s simply to point out that not all feedback is equal. Feedback and criticism is an important part of any project that should always be welcomed, but there should always be room for a healthy discussion around whether or not the feedback is legitimate and should be implemented.

It’s normal to want feedback from your peers, family, and friends but the reality is that everyone has an opinion, and the biggest problems arise when the opinions are subjective and derived from an audience that the design wasn’t originally intended for.

The Result

When too many people are part of the entire creative process, the result is always going to be a compromise without any one person being held accountable. It’s incredibly difficult to maintain a strong vision without a decision-maker. The result will be watered down, created purely to pacify rather than to be unique.

The Solution

Hire someone you trust.

We’re in this to produce high-quality work with a strong sense of vision. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to call ourselves design professionals. Some may disagree, but design shouldn’t be consensus-driven aimed to make everyone happy. Good design should always be defended. Participate, but allow the people you hire to be the experts.