Designing for a Institution

Gained quite a bit of experience in the design process I had for BioBiz. Haven’t had time to sit down and compile the experience in a nice concise post. But I happen to read this post from Smashing Magazine: 10 Harsh Truths About Corporate Websites. One specific point explained very clearly the dilemma and (a huge) problem I faced. Here goes (emphasis added by myself):

8. Design By Committee Brings Death

The ultimate symbol of a large organization’s approach to website management is the committee. A committee is often formed to tackle the website because internal politics demand that everybody has a say and all considerations be taken into account. To say that all committees are a bad idea is naive, and to suggest that a large corporate website could be developed without consultation is fanciful. However, when it comes to design, committees are often the kiss of death.

Illustration showing why design by committee fails
Design by committee leads to design on the fly.

Design is subjective. The way we respond to a design can be influenced by culture, gender, age, childhood experience and even physical conditions (such as color blindness). What one person considers great design could be hated by another. This is why it is so important that design decisions be informed by user testing rather than personal experience. Unfortunately, this approach is rarely taken when a committee is involved in design decisions.

Instead, designing by committee becomes about compromise. Because committee members have different opinions about the design, they look for ways to find common ground. One person hates the blue color scheme, while another loves it. This leads to designing on the fly, with the committee instructing the designer to “try a different blue” in the hopes of finding middle ground. Unfortunately, this leads only to bland design that neither appeals to nor excites anyone.

Compromise… I’ve tried to not compromise at the beginning but the need to please everyone got the better of me and the design process did become about compromise. And although the article was talking in the context of designing a corporate website, I believe (and have experienced) the same problem is faced in all other design-related processes such as corporate logo and publicity posters.

What I didn’t fully understand is the part about user testing. Am throwing this out and hoping that someone educates me about it. 🙂


3 thoughts on “Designing for a Institution

  1. user testing: look nice and easy to use for the designer doesnt mean so for the user loh. make it idiot proof etc. i think im crapping early in the morning

    • ock: Hmm… I wonder how to conduct user design for things such as poster and banner design. I sacked my designer and will be removing “design by committee”! Less people will be involved in the decision process… Hopefully there’d be less compromise.

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