Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Design by committee

A few years ago a consultant to a Housing Group came to me in a quandary. A designer he had used many many times, whom he respected and trusted, had supplied him with a rather under-whelming logo for a Housing Group he was working with. The consultant just couldn't understand what had happened. Had he upset the designer? Or was the designer just not interested or had they misread the brief? He asked if I wouldn't I mind looking at it, to see if I could work out what had happened.

The next day I received a 20 plus page word document, and it soon became clear what had happened. It was filled with market research, charts, surveys, questionnaires and graphs about colours, themes and elements that the tenants and staff of the housing group liked, with percentages next to the most and least popular. The results were: Blue, the sea and the sun. Not unreasonably from this the designer produced a blue logotype, with a wave and a yellow circle to represent the sun. Unfortunately the solution used all the visual short hand of a Travel Agency.

What had happened here was the committee – in this case the staff and tenants of the Housing Group – through a survey which was based on series of compromises, had democratically dictated the corporate identity for the group. As far as I know none of those involved had purchased creative services before but their opinions were key to the creation of the briefing document.

But, the survey in itself wasn't the problem. Surveys like this are useful if only for an overview of the organisation. No, the problem lay in the brief. It completely failed to ask the designer to have any creative ideas on behalf of the Housing Group. Clearly they acknowledged that they themselves lacked the skill set to create a logo for themselves which is why they appointed a designer. But then they shackle the designer with this well intentioned but ultimately misleading document. The designer does their best to meet the brief as they see it, with results that completely flummox the client.

It was only when I pointed out to the consultant, that according to their own research 53% of those surveyed had agreed that they would be satisfied with a blue logo with a wave and a sun, did they then re-brief the designer, removing the survey, and appointing one person with decision making responsibilities to oversee the project. After a second attempt, I'm happy to report that they got the logo they wanted.

HUGHES | DESIGN will be producing a handy guide to purchasing creative services, and how to avoid the design by committee pitfalls. Keep and eye out here for more details.

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