Sorted Design Agency
Design by committee
by willem
design by committee

First of all… what is this term you speak of? Well, if you’re a marketing manager, co-ordinator or liaison who works directly with your designer or design company, you’ve probably been guilty of ‘design by committee’ [I should probably tread lightly here – gazing through window onto a rainy Cape Town trying to find the fine line between ‘informing’ and ‘offending’ ]

Let me just rip off the bandage, yes there’s a wound, through years of battering… Design by committee is a disparaging term for a project that has many designers involved but no unifying plan or vision. ‘Many designers’ – this can include a vast list of individuals from the kitchen staff, the secretary, someone’s mother, her aunt, marketing co-ordinator, ceo, production staff and your sister’s 1st year son at Overpriced Private Design ‘University’.

Michael Arrington, a widely respected and influential person on the Web; Founder and co-editor of TechCrunch, a blog on Silicon Valley technology had the following to say:

There’s a saying I love: “a camel is a horse designed by committee.” A variation is “a Volvo is a Porsche designed by committee.” Some of the best product advice I’ve ever heard goes something like “damn what the users want, charge towards your dream.” All of these statements are, of course, saying the same thing. When there are too many cooks in the kitchen all you get is a mess. And when too many people have product input, you’ve got lots of features but no soul.

I’ve posed my problem, this ‘design by committee’ one to my committee – a very opinionated group of friends and received varied responses. One said I should get off my high horse [camel?] and do whatever the client [or committee] wants, they are paying for it after all…  She’s a doctor. I asked, ‘do you do the same with your patients?’ she paused ‘mmm, well no,’ when I asked why she said in a low voice ‘well, I’m a medical professional I studied medicine for 7 years and…’ OH OF COURSE… because during my 4 years at uni we played with clay, sniffed glue and learned how to use a carpet knife and subsequently spent 13 years in the industry applying my knowledge of glue and clay and Adobe. Because we’re tools?

Yes, us designers, we the people, they who create, might have a elevated sense of entitlement about the work we do. No, we’re not saving lives, or are we? Maybe we can. The point is, we’re trained individuals, visually literate, to be able to see beyond visual understanding. We know [or should] know why your logo should not be bigger and why there’s so much ‘open space’.

Some of our favourite client responses go something like this:

  • It did not blow my hair back
  • My wife says there is too much white around everything. It ‘s a waste of space.
  • My husband does not like the pink
  • My sister said she saw something similar in London at a small Italian restaurant in the West End.
  • It is not jumping off the page.
  • How much? But it wil only take you a few hours…?
  • I’m not a creative but…

We cannot stand by while someone pushes design into a direction that we know is wrong, take a shot of tequila, send the invoice and hope for a better day. It is our duty to educate, lead and direct the client, whilst taking their needs [not opinions] to heart and present the best visual and functional design. Even though they fit the bill, where are they going to point fingers to when the campaign fails because they did not listen to the advice of the designer?

That being said, know when to choose your battles and decide if you want to win the battle or the war.


Sorted Design Agency is a creative company that constantly looks for solutions to other people’s problems. These problems come mostly in visual format, such as graphic design, logo and illustration, but we’re experts in identity developmentwebsite design, and digital SEO campaigns as well.


Based in Pretoria and Cape Town, Sorted has been in the design, advertising and content marketing industry since 2006. We assist your company with its corporate identity by communicating core values and facilitating audience growth.


Sorted also owns two other businesses; InkFish Print Studio – a printing company that handles a range of promotional materials for businesses and other services for individual customers, and Pampiri + Kie – a gifts and stationery store selling online and in-store. Both of these companies operate from Cape Town and Pretoria.