Design by Committee will Ruin Your Website

Design by committee is the leading cause of website failure. When I hear the words “we need to gather our team and get everyone’s input” I realize the project is doomed. Often my clients believe that the system they employ is helpful when it only stands to derail the whole process. If you are starting or in the midst of a website design project consider avoiding these traps that could ruin your website.

Take me to your leader

Your website project should have a project leader. While it is fine to have other input and get opinions from the principals involved, it is critical to have one person in charge. Think of it in terms of The Apprentice. Someone needs to be responsible for setting the goals and making decisions. Without this, your project will be fueled by the Peter Principle, which explains, “in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.” This usually results in conference calls that accomplish nothing, and where people make statements like the following list of favorite sayings overheard in committee meetings:

My wife wants more circles.
My husband says it doesn’t hit him in the gut.
My kids say there are too many words.
My dog didn’t wag its tail.
The waiter said he’s seen something just like that in France.
I need more oopmh ?in it.
I’ll know it when I see it. So go back and make more.
I love what _____ did. Can you do the same, but with carrots?

A Singular Vision

Teamwork is great. It almost always results in work that is greater than the sum of its parts. However teamwork requires a singular goal or it can easily dissolve into a mess like this classic example of the classic “Process (aka Designing the Stop Sign)”. The leader should be the one to set the goal and ensure that all of the input and decisions are in line. Just because something sounds like an excellent idea does not mean it is right for your project. Michael Arrington, founder and co-editor of TechCrunch wrote:

The iPhone is clearly a vision of a single core team, or maybe even one man. It happened to be a good dream, and that device now dominates mobile culture. But its extremely unlikely Apple would have ever built it if they conducted lots of focus groups and customer outreach first. No keyboard? Please.

Be swift

The quality of your website will reduce over time. The more time, change requests, and opinions that are involved the uglier your website will become. Your website is not meant to be the Mona Lisa and should not take ages to produce. If you are unsure about certain elements or how to communicate your needs, talk to your designer. If you have very conflicting views on your side then call on the designer’s expertise as their opinion as an outsider can make them extremely valuable. Listen to their suggestions and recognize that while they are the expert it is also their job to make you happy so they will often implement your bad ideas.

Minor changes?

Usually, the first few rounds of a design are the most coherent with elements that work in concert with each other and probably require a bit of fine tuning. Consider this hilarious comic from The Oatmeal that shows the painful outcome of too many minor changes. The more time spent on “minor changes”, the less the changes are fine-tuning and you are probably getting away from the core design of the site. The most successful projects I have completed have been done quickly with only a few changes.

To recap, avoid ‘design by committee’ at all costs. The end result should never (and will never) please everyone. Have one point of contact on your side to relay feedback to the designer. Rely on your designer, they should be able to justify their decisions and explain if your suggestions will not be effective (and why). While you might be inclined to get the opinions of your committee as support, it never works that way. Be clear on your goals from the beginning to avoid ruining your website.

(photo: Shutterstock)


  1. Aaron Street Aaron S. says:

    Here’s one of my favorites along the lines of “Can you do the same, but with carrots?”:

  2. Gyi Tsakalakis Gyi T. says:

    Don’t you love it when you’ve gone through the design and development process, received approval, and then, out of nowhere, someone, with sufficient voice wants to scrap the whole design and start over? Me too.

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