Design By Committee Must Die

- - Working

Everyone knows that magazine making is done by committee but nobody ever talks about how awful that is for making something brilliant. The meetings where you sit around and try to come up with something interesting to put in the magazine were particularly painful.

From a Smashing Magazine article:

In a business climate fueled by fear and the “Peter Principle,” as it is today, a decision not made is a tragedy averted. So, decision by committee provides a safe and often anonymous process for finger-pointing down the line… inevitably leading to the creative, of course.

…more here.

From the same piece:

A photographer I know once said, “I’ll give the model a big mole on her face, and the committee focuses on that and are usually satisfied with the momentous change of removing it and leave everything else as is.”

There Are 18 Comments On This Article.

  1. I can only imagine what the rest of the editorial staff said behind my back, but when I was editor of Powder Magazine I always made the final decision on what went into the book. Sometimes there was consensus, sometimes everyone thought I was high. I can still picture the faces in the conference room when everyone was in agreement except for me and I followed my instincts.

    Sometimes we flamed out, sometimes we had huge successes, and sometimes we had both at the same time. And there’s no question I pissed people off, though it was never intentional. In the end, though, regardless of what people thought of the magazine at the time or of me as editor, I like to think that it stood for something, that it followed its own course and was never wishy-washy.

    The best magazines are the one with a bold and clear vision and a strong single hand on the rudder. But without a strong leader, the staff’s trust in the leader, and the backing of management…good luck.

  2. What magazines have staffs big enough to design by committee these days?

    • @Grant,

      Funny, that was my first thought as well. Climbing, Rock & Ice, Urban Climber, and Alpinist are all tiny operations these days (can you tell what market segment I’m in?) and it’s hard to imagine that there’s either enough time or manpower to operate via a committee.

    • @Grant,

      Not all magazines have committees of staffers, but the circulation departments often conduct reader surveys that ultimately can change the course of editorial decisions. At least that’s how it was at the magazine I was Senior Editor at (owned by a major conglomerate).

  3. I wish this has a “Like” button on it. I was the visual managing editor at a daily newspaper and stuff would be handled this way. All it did was breed mediocrity. Which is part of the reason papers are suffering. They are to rooted in tradition. Not that I am saying do bad journalism just present in a different way, not something my grandmother is only interested in.

  4. The main problem with design by committee is that it creates the space for buck passing. And the end result is that instead of creating something that inspires some people, it produces something that just, kind of, well, offends nobody. It’s pretty much the dominant result in much modern corporate culture. If anything good floats to the surface, invariably it’s despite the process and not because of it. The reason for this is that 99% of people go to work in the morning and the main thrust of their endeavours is to get to the end of the day without getting fired. There is very little space made available where risks and, by extension, brilliance can flourish.

  5. A few things that were missing… an unrealistic deadline, hours of waiting for people to get back to you and the expectation of the client that the deadline would still be met even though they made all of those ridiculous changes and dragged there feet for day or weeks.

  6. Frank Tha Tank

    A-Fuckin-Men! I used to dread going into layout and ad edit reviews with the editors, publishers, owners (and their “experts” aka. friends) of the publications I worked for. It would always start out with “Oh! We like it…but we need to change…everything about it!” No matter how perfect it was it still always needed to be completely re-designed, and then possibly re-designed again. The process would last for HOURS and rarely ever accomplished anything. I used to sit in those meetings thinking about the loaded gun in my car’s glove-compartment and wondering if it would be easier to just go outside, put the gun in my mouth and pull the trigger. Thankfully I didn’t. All of those publications and companies have now gone out of business. Yet I’m still around doing what “I” want to do, kicking ass and taking names.

    Words to live by:

    “Be sure you’re right–then go ahead.”
    -Davey Crockett

  7. The video is what designers have to deal with almost every day with clients. But thankfully, only the scared, ignorant, untrusting, paranoid clients. There are also trusting, confident, interested in the process, open and flexible clients too.
    The really lucky designers have less of the paranoid clients and more of the best kind of clients.

  8. I think part of it is the same as working with a single AD. Sometimes, I think they have to mess with and over think things because it’s their job. If they don’t put their fingers into to the dough, then they’re irrelevant. It’s their job to do something, to make changes, to act in what they believe to be the company’s interest, right or wrong. This carries over to the committee model. If they don’t make changes, they aren’t doing their job and nobody wants to be seen is not contributing or doing their job.

  9. I have a family friend who works in the creative field at an agency. What really irritates her is that when the client will hire the lowest-of-the-lowball photographers, and then after the shoot they proceed to spend 10 times more on the retouching that it would have cost to hire the right guy in the first place. Definitely a decision-by-committee factor. Everyone is afraid to put the big bucks up front, but somehow, putting the big bucks up to “fix it” is okay.