How to ditch “design by committee” and make collaboration work for you

How to ditch “design by committee” and make collaboration work for you

“Design by committee” is considered the kiss of death to any design project – synonymous with weak compromises and bland, flavourless approaches. Every creative professional has battled it at some point, fighting to keep the spark of a creative idea glowing in the face of resistance to change or too-many-cooks syndrome.

But at its best, collaborative design can not only move you to better solutions and stronger client relationships, it can also increase profits, improve client loyalty, and establish you as an indispensable advisor rather than just a hired gun.

Over the course of my web design career, I worked with a lot of large teams, and I learned a lot about why some projects end up as a mish-mash of trade-offs, while others were creative successes – and it had nothing to do with how many people were involved in the creative process. Instead, it boiled down to three core components:

  1. The team members had clear roles and responsibilities, parameters, and opportunities for input.
  2. We focused our collaborative efforts on the creative brief – that is, establishing a clear vision and strategy for the project, so that all design decisions could emerge from a shared understanding of what we were working towards.
  3. The process was well coordinated in order to avoid consensus paralysis, scope creep, or death by compromise.

Now, none of these are small things to achieve – but they are totally achievable by teams large and small. It’s simply a matter of acquiring the necessary skills to run a collaborative creative process effectively.

I’m passionate about the possibilities of effective collaboration, because as I see it, we as a society are hitting up against the limits of going it alone. It’s like that African proverb Al Gore quotes in An Inconvenient Truth: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We need to figure out how to go far, quickly, if we’re going to even begin to address the challenges of our time.

And if that sounds grandiose, well – the same principle applies to seemingly small problems.

So in the spirit of sharing what I’ve learned over my years of collaborative design work, I’ve created three new courses for Lynda.com:

Lynda.com 10-day free trialAs always, my Lynda.com courses include several free chapters, so you can preview them without a membership – but you can also get a 10-day free trial membership by clicking the banner to the right – which gets you access to the complete Lynda.com course library (including my courses, along with thousands of others).

Photo by Book Sprints (via Flickr)