Design by Committee

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A Roadmap to proper designing and billing for you and your client.

I've been in the design business for 25 years.  As one who designs things for a living, you nearly always answer to a higher power... be it a client, a boss, you name it.  Satisfying your clients with your design skills can sometimes be easy, sometimes hard and I have seen all types, all scenarios, all situations and all levels.

The Best Case Scenario

A client hires you to design something.  They trust you, they know you are the expert in this particular field and not them.  They take your word for it.  They realize that your 1000+ hours doing what they are asking for outweighs their 2 hours of thinking about it.  They turn over a list of Design Directives or a Creative Brief and you get to work.  Once finished, you show them their product.  They look it over, sleep on it, show it to their stakeholders to get feedback and devise a list of revisions (this is perfectly normal).  As humans, we have to realize that we aren't perfect and that counts certainly for our communication skills.  Sometimes parts of Design Directives become lost in translation and require tweaks.  You make tweaks to your design and BAM!  Revision 1 hits them and they love it.  Mission accomplished.  

Most Common Scenario

By far, in my years of designing things, I would say the most common scenario would be a slight alteration to the above paragraph.  Read that one again, and add a "Revision 2" to the mix.  I will admit that most times it takes the client and designer 2 revisions to reach a final.  The key to the success of both scenarios is that your POC (Point of Contact) is in charge.  It is essential that your POC "own" the project ultimately having the final say in it's creation.  PERIOD.  After all, what else is their company paying them for?  It's great and even essential for your POC to get stakeholder feedback on the initial version.  This gives the stakeholders a voice and makes them feel more part of the team, also giving them a chance to think of things that your POC didn't.  

Design by Committee

This scenario is the world's worst.  Not only for the designer, but for the client themselves.  It is costly and far from productive.  It wastes time and money on line items that just don't matter.  Some of you might be wondering, "What the heck is Design by Committee"?  Well, I am here to tell you.  In this process, your POC isn't in charge.  He doesn't have an "ownership" in the product design.  He is simply a "middle man".  He translates the needs of the committee to the designer.  In this scenario, the "design process" is owned by a conference room full of people.  Most of these folks couldn't design their way out of a paper bag but what they DO have is an opinion and they darn well will tell it.  Design by Committee will cost the company huge overage costs in revision after revision after revision and leave the actual designer working on the product for an exorbitant amount of time.

Advice to Client and Designers

Clients.  Choose a proper POC and let them own the project.  Let them make decisions, do not micro-manage them.  Give them your thoughts and advice once, but after that, trust they know what they are doing.  You hired them, let them to their job.

Designers.  When quoting a design project, work off the 1 Version and 2 Revisions List method.  The communication and flow looks like this:

  1. Get Design Directives (Creative Brief) from Client
  2. Hop on the phone to clarify any questions about the Design Directives
  3. Do the work.
  4. Turn in a 100% completed project preview for the client to look at.
  5. Client looks it over and makes a list of revisions.  This list can be 1 item or 50,000 items (whatever).
  6. Turn in Revision 1 project preview for the client to look at.
  7. Client looks it over and makes a 2nd list of revisions.  This list can be 1 item or 50,000 items (whatever).
  8. Turn in Revision 2 project preview for the client to look at.
  9.  Client approves the product, invoice and get paid.  The invoice should come with "2 FREE Revision Lists".

____ DERAIL _____

10.  If the client comes back AGAIN with a 3rd revisions list, estimate the time it will take to make those changes and send them another quote to approve.  This quote's cost will be in addition to the original quote's cost.  If this happens (and continues to happen), then you have found yourself a "Design by Committee" client.