Death By Committee? Design Strategy Is The Answer


No matter what industry or sector you work in, you’ve probably experienced Death By Committee. Maybe several times, maybe hundreds!

It’s the slow, agonising atrophy of a project, due to the failure of the organising group reaching a consensus or agreement.

This could be down to bureaucracy or internal politics, but usually with creative projects, it’s a failure to agree on either creative direction or execution.

Whether it’s a project entailing branding to marketing, websites or advertising, the effects can be disastrous.

Maybe such an impasse is down to conflicts of personal opinion (“I don’t like the yellow on the website”), or it could be decision-paralysis (“we’re worried we’re not ticking enough boxes”).

Or even worse, a combination of both.

Creative projects require empathy. They ask us to view the world from our customer or client’s perspective. What do they want? What do they need? How can we help solve their problem?

But when we lose sight of this orientation, we resign ourselves to making ever-more subjective calls, to the demise of whatever we were trying to achieve in the first place.

So we go back and forth with endless revisions, trying to please every opinion in the group. As such, the work becomes an unfocused, confused hodgepodge of creative ideas – a ‘Design Frankenstein’.

Usually such creations are marketing abominations, and like their namesake are left to wander off into the distance, never to be seen again.

But there’s a better way to steer the proverbial ship – design strategy.

Die by Committee or Live by Design

Design means intention. It is the active act of problem solving, whether by communication, organisation or manufacture. When we bring intention into our lives, we can use it to create structure, to then clarify purpose.

That structure in this case, is a design strategy (I’m using design as an example, but these principles apply to say brand strategy, or marketing strategy).

The point of design strategy is establish the business objectives of the project, the parameters in which the project will work, and to keep everything on track.

Done right, it alleviates decision-paralysis, crystallises action, and provides a methodology to measure the project’s success.

Here’s an example of our process for defining design strategy at Brand to Mouth. This takes place over a client session, and forms the basis for our design process.

Defining a Strategy

  1. Project Alignment
  2. Understanding The Process
  3. Profiling the Users
  4. Business Goals
  5. Deliverables

1. Project Alignment

We establish what we (the parties tasked with this project), are here to do, and what each person wants to get out of the session.

We’ll then discuss, and determine the overall objective of the project. This objective will run throughout the lifespan of the project.

Whenever there’s a decision to be made regarding the project, we’ll refer back to this objective.

2. Understanding The Process

We lay out how we intend to go about solving the clients’ problem, breaking down the process and how we work.

This is so everyone has a concrete expectation of the steps will be involved (no surprise detours).

3. Profiling The Users

We ask who’s it for, what’s it for, and why it matters. We look at the target group or audience in detail, and break down what they want or need.

This is the a vital part of keeping a project on track, as it’s these groups we want to reach, and their opinion that ultimately matters – not our colleagues, partners or friends.

4. Business Goals

We set out what the project needs to deliver for the business. It could be a bottom-line consideration – say, 3% increase in sales within 12 months, or a certain number of website subscribers.

Whatever the metric, this is a critical point, as we’ll use these goals to later determine whether the project has been successful or not.

5. Deliverables

We set out in detail what the execution phase of the project will cover – the deliverables themselves.

(For example:- 4 brochures, a promotional landing page, an A5 flyer template)

Decisions, Decisions

With the design strategy in place, it becomes the ‘thread of steel’ for the creative process. Naturally when dealing with creative projects, a fair amount of subjectivity is necessary, and getting buy-in from internal teams is an important factor.

But where possible we want to focus any subjectivity to the objectives of the project itself.

So then the question is not whether Bob from Accounts likes yellow, it becomes will our audience like yellow?

The question is less whether we like serif fonts, it’s how does our audience feel about serif fonts?

A design strategy is no magic bullet. It in itself offers no answers.

But it can light the path on the way to those answers – as long as we stay on it.

– Greg Bunbury

PS. Do you struggle to keep your design projects on track? Email us to book a consultation call, and we’ll take you through how to get the best out of the process.

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