God isn't bland. The Church shouldn't be, either.
Design by Committee is a Tool of the Devil

…or at least that’s the way it feels sometimes. Ask just about any designer and they’ll tell you: The designs and logos that were the least successful in the end were directed and approved by the most people in the beginning.

Design by committee seems like a fantastic idea at the outset, but can lead to serious road blocks and conflicts that can seriously derail a project. Let’s take a look at the areas where things start to fall apart…

Having Too Many Hands in the Pot

In working with dozens of designers over the years, this has to be the biggest complaint among the weary and worn. It typically goes like this:

  1. The designer generates several comps for the original client(s) or project managers. The designs are promising (likely with an immediate favorite), and the client casually asks a few co-workers for their opinions.
  2. Valid feedback is received. Colors are tweaked and rough edges are worn away into a near final project. The designer and client are both happy, and the comp is passed around again one last time for feedback.
  3. Hours before the deadline, a well-meaning collection of “suggestions” begin to flood the designer’s inbox. “Shouldn’t we use more purple or more maroon since this is church-related? Where’s the cross in the logo? Shouldn’t the text be beveled (I can do this in Publisher for you if you want)? Can we add some clip art to really make things “pop?”
  4. The committee has been formed. The person with the loudest voice and the strongest opinion also has the least experience/design sensibilities to back it up. Deadlines are discarded, dozens of revisions are taking place, and neither the designer or the client is happy with the final result.

Sound familiar? It’s a slippery slope that is found far to often in the life of the church and other ministry teams (for the record, its just as common in secular corporations as well). Is there any way to avoid it?

Have a “vision casting” meeting between the designer and the necessary staff at the outset of a project, and let the designer take the reigns from there. Assign no more than 3 relevant folks to be the staff representatives for the project (or “project managers” if you want to be fancy) that can provide succinct and valid feedback to the designer when needed. This will keep the right people in the conversation and keep the design process from stalling out.

Moving from Designing to Executing

The turning point in the creative disaster above was when the designer’s role was shifted from the artistic director to merely the executor of other people’s ideas. Very rarely will this shift result in a positive final product.

If you don’t trust your designer, it may be a good idea to seek out a relationship with a new one. Your staff likely choose a designer because they liked their portfolio or other projects they’ve done for you in the past. I’m not saying that feedback isn’t worth considering, but when it comes to choosing between the opinion of an experienced designer or a vocal team member, I’d recommend giving the designer’s opinion a little more “weight.” The best designs transcend the personal preferences of a few.

The Voice of Many Becomes the Voice of None

“When everything is important, nothing’s important.” That has easily been one of the best pieces of wisdom I’ve gleaned in my career over the years. It also applies directly to committee-based design; when a number of voices are competing for attention, its really hard for those voices to be heard, especially when they’re not saying the same thing.

Trusting the designer/project manager combo typically results in a single, cohesive voice that can be heard throughout the project and seen in the final result. It’s where the best results come from, and honestly, it’s one of the best decisions your ministry can make in today’s creative society.

I want to be clear here: I am not pushing for artistic snobbery or devaluing creative feedback. Critique is always a good thing, and your designer definitely needs a good understanding of where your team wants to go on a project.

However, it’s always important to remember why a designer was hired in the first place. God gave them those gifts for a reason; trust them to take your projects in exciting new directions. I think you’ll be happier with the results.

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  1. Adam Houston (Reply) on August 9th, 2010

    Totally agreed. Also, here’s one of my all-time favorite comics on the subject. Insightful AND hilarious. I’m sure you’ve seen it before, but for anyone who hasn’t: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/design_hell

  2. Lauren Murrell (Reply) on August 9th, 2010

    Nice :) The problem with this is so many people are affected by it – not just the designer. Adam, I wish that was an exaggeration!

  3. Brent Mitchell (Reply) on August 9th, 2010

    “I can do this in Publisher for you if you want”

    This makes me laugh and cry at the same time.

  4. Eric Granata (Reply) on August 9th, 2010

    Thank you for putting this out there. I totally agree.

  5. Brandon Cox (Reply) on August 9th, 2010

    Amen!!! You’ve just spelled out most of my design pet peeves. Sometimes clients may not realize just how much of the foundational structure of a site has to be manipulated to “move the slideshow to the left and make it bigger.”

  6. Kevin Deutsch (Reply) on August 9th, 2010

    I was a victim of this today. The committee means well, and they’re only trying to help. They really believe they can!

    But when I get on a bus, I don’t tell the driver which route to take, and I definitely don’t sit in his seat. I trust him to take me where I want to go, and when we get there, I thank him and get off the bus. Right?

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