Picking (At) a Successful Design

A new client, apropos of nothing, interjected, “Why do committees usually produce crappy design?”

That client is not a designer, so it was an insightful question and difficult to answer in concise talking points. We do not intend to enshrine designers, but there seems to be something intangible at play in their best work. Something greater than infuses the sum of the parts. And those parts may exist in a particularly delicate balance of relationships and proportions, not all of them about how a thing looks.

Committee work done wrong averages out the individual, flattening-by-consensus the peaks and valleys of both excellent and terrible into a more-uniform average. Functional beige.

A team like is biased toward playing it safe but doesn’t see itself that way. It too-often requires early sharing of things that need more time to mature… or to sprout fruitful offshoots. It too-often leans toward obvious and literal solutions when imaginative and emotional ones might perform better.

This is a discussion worth having both for design professionals and the people who work with them. One seeks to deliver their best work, the other wants their perceived needs addressed, and both want the best-possible results. Nations have been forged with fewer concerns in common! And yet…

…on some of its worst days, a committee’s groupthink devolves into personal preference, likes and dislikes. This can cripple design, stall development, and inflate budgets. It’s difficult for many to accept that, very often, “what I like” may be irrelevant to the effectiveness of a project.

Design may address a web of interdependencies: information architecture, voice and message, psychographics, and user experience. The visible aesthetic, if successful, collapses that intricacy into something that seems much simpler than it is. And commercial design typically gives the dominant focus to the commercial goal (branding, a sale, marketing), not on the design’s own cleverness or prettiness — though we may hope for that, too.

When it comes to designers, developers, and their clients, mutual respect makes good partners. What that looks like varies from project to person to circumstance, but it is always worth cultivating — both for a more-pleasant work experience and for better, more-inspired results. It allows each expert to do their best work. That’s when projects satisfy all sides of the equation and may enjoy greater longevity, too.

Finally, we have often quoted these words from a man who knew much about the meta side of digital, and other, design:

“…good design is magical and not to be lightly tinkered with. The difference between a great design and a lousy one is in the meshing of the thousand details that either fit or don’t, and the spirit of the passionate intellect that has tied them together, or tried.

“That’s why programming — or buying software — on the basis of “lists of features” is a doomed and misguided effort. The features can be thrown together, as in a garbage can, or carefully laid together and interwoven in elegant unification, as in APL, or the Forth language, or the game of chess.”

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Picking (At) a Successful Design
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"Committee work done wrong averages out the individual, flattening-by-consensus the peaks and valleys of both excellent and worst into a more-uniform average. Functional beige."
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