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12 Mar

Design by Editor or Design by Committee?

Published: 3 years, 5 months, 2 weeks, 1 day, 6 hours, 8 minutes ago    
Tags: Web Design | Doing Business Online
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When starting a new website project, we first sit down with a small number of representatives from the organisation that we're building that website for. Together, we bash out the details, establish the goals, assess the resources and create a plan.

The people in this first meeting are important; they're the ones who understand the stakes, know the ultimate goal, have the insight into the needs of the organisation and its stakeholders, they carry the expertise to run the project and deliver on its goals. These are good people.

These people are also the ones responsible for the project's outcomes. Fail or succeed, they're the ones in the room, crafting the vision, outlining the plans, refining the ideas. Their hands are all over the project, so when the day comes to show it to the world, they should be proud of the final result.

This is how it should be and the publishing industry recognise this. They understand it takes a team of people to achieve a goal however they also know that before anything gets published, it needs someone to sign off on it. They call this person the "editor".

The "editor" doesn't own the paper, but they are responsible for its success. If a paper isn't selling well, the paper's CEO will give the editor the flick. Likewise, if the paper is a success, the editor claim's the glory.

The "Design by Editor" system works because the person who understands the project the best is making the final decisions. They have been appointed to oversee the project and take responsibility for it. They are in the best position to make sure the project is a success and deserve the accolades when it is.

However... this approach is foreign to many industries. In some industries, the idea of being responsible for the success (or failure) of a project is unfamiliar. These firms try to work more democratically, they take several views into account and try to find a solution that appeases everyone. This approach is called "Design by Committee".

The problem with this approach is that people who have little involvement or understanding of the project get to influence it's final result. Everyone's opinion is thought of as being equal but the truth is, it's not.

The only opinions that count are those which belong to the people responsible for executing the project. This is because it's their job. These people have been given the responsibility for getting the project right. Each person was given this job for a reason and they should be given the freedom to do this job and deliver the project to plan without influence from external parties who lack the required understanding and expertise.

So, if a deliverable for your website is to be "female friendly", conduct a structured survey. Don't change the logo to pink to appease the boss's wife's opinion. She'll probably never use the website again and her only expertise is only "being female".

Furthermore, if you didn't identify "being female friendly" as a core requirement to the brief, dismiss the comment. It will only complicate the execution of the job and distracts from the website achieving it's primary goals.

Likewise if your accountant didn't like the font when he looked at it on his smart phone, ask yourself why you didn't feel this was the case before he looked at it and is your accountant the best person to be taking design feedback from?

Now consider how your accountant holds no accountability to the success of the project and lacks any understanding of the projects objectives. Do you want to change your project based upon this person's feedback? Is it really the best thing for the project?

It's these scenarios which change a project from being focused and effective to confused and bloated. They hold an off the cuff remark equal to the carefully researched and executed decisions made by an expert team earlier in a project. They demonstrate how the work of professionals can quickly become undone at the hands of amateurs.

It's for these reasons that Design by Committee projects always fail to meet their goal despite being regarded by the client as a success upon launch. They feel this way because the project now democratically appeases everyone consulted and by this measure is bound to be a success. It's only after some time that the shortcomings become evident to the client due to the unbridled input from so many people who should never have been consulted.

To better illustrate this point, imagine the news paper editor again. Now, let's say that he has to get the morning paper out using "Design by Committee". Not only will the paper be printed late, he'll have removed from himself any accountability for the failure of that paper. This is a terrible thing for the paper's CEO who now has a terrible paper and an editor who he can't fire as he's not the one making the bad decisions..!

So, in summary, if you're planning to invite someone to play a role in contributing towards the final result of your new website, get them on your web team from day one. Otherwise, don't ask their opinion, instead, just wait for your site to go live and then tell them what a success it's been.


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