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5 strategies to avoid design by committee

Getting feedback from multiple sources is incredibly useful for informing product decisions. But there’s a fine line between successfully balancing feedback and falling prey to design by committee. 

Last updated

7 Feb 2023

Reading time

7 min


If you’ve ever heard the phrase ‘a camel is a horse designed by committee’, you’re probably familiar with this phenomenon. Design by committee usually pops up when multiple stakeholders are involved in the creative process, and the final result must fulfill everyone’s expectations.

Fortunately, there are ways to avoid design by committee and manage feedback properly while maintaining a collaborative design process. Let’s discuss them!

Hotjar helps you design products that resonate

Hotjar's product experience insights guide product teams to prioritize brilliantly and focus on what matters: designing a product your customers love.

What is design by committee?

Design by committee describes a practice where multiple parties are involved in the product design process, and all of their input is treated equally. This phenomenon emphasizes the weaknesses of incorporating too many opinions into a single project. 

In a nutshell, designing by committee is a conflicted or overly idealistic design process that often leads to poor-quality products that don’t actively consider user needs.

One of the main problems with design by committee is that it doesn’t support one of the main pillars of design: collaboration

Good design collaboration incorporates feedback in a way that brings everyone on the same page, keeps projects organized, and avoids the need for rework. This condenses the production process and enables teams to deliver high-quality products faster and cheaper. There’s no doubt that product design benefits from the feedback of various stakeholders and colleagues—but only when appropriate and relevant. 

When a product is designed by multiple stakeholders with no unifying vision—or without someone with clear authority for making final decisions—it can become burdensome, over-complicated, and unfulfilling, leading the product down the path of inexperienced decisions and misaligned opinions.

The Pontiac Aztek exposes the perils of design by committee

The 2001 Pontiac Aztek is one of those design by committee examples that’s become a cautionary tale. 

The car came from General Motors’ desire to create a truly crowd-pleasing product. GM let focus groups drive the concept development while also letting many different internal groups chime in. This standard case of ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ led to a commercial failure.

To this day, the Pontiac Aztek is considered one of the ugliest cars ever produced and a failure from day one, with only 30,000 ever made and unsatisfying sales. The model was discontinued after just four years.

#The Pontiac Aztek. Source: Pontiac
The Pontiac Aztek. Source: Pontiac

5 ways to address design by committee with data

Data is an essential part of product design. Not only do you need to know who will be using your product, but you also need to know enough to predict why and how they’ll use it to ensure product adoption and success. 

To avoid design by committee and make better design decisions, you need research to back them. Qualitative and quantitative data both have a role to play: together, they give you a rich portrait of what your users want and need.

By planning your product based on data, analytics, and input from actual customers, you can sideline a lot of feedback beginning with “I think” or “in my opinion,” and empower your team to make design decisions based on facts.

Here are some ways to use data to steer your product planning clear of design by committee.

1. Clearly define roles from the outset

Before your team starts collecting and analyzing data for your design project, start by agreeing on roles and responsibilities up front. This helps you solve problems that arise when several cooks are in the kitchen, as in a design by committee environment.

Every role involved in the design process must be clearly defined from the beginning, including

Remember, there’s nothing wrong with collecting feedback from multiple stakeholders, as long as there’s a final decision-maker to decide what feedback to implement and what needs to be scrapped.

The more people involved in the product design process, the more likely there will be differences of opinion, making the design process more complicated than it needs to be. By clearly defining your team’s roles, you can establish a hierarchy for decision-making and avoid overstepping boundaries. This makes it easier to settle on the final decision-maker and ensure everyone knows who that person is.

2. Put users at the center of your designs, every time

One of the problems with designing by committee is that the user is often forgotten or sidelined. Stakeholders tend to focus on their business requirements and what looks good rather than targeting audience needs.

When the user experience (UX) does come into question, designing by committee means that everyone is giving their opinion of how they believe the user thinks or behaves. But no insights are more powerful than those straight from the customers themselves.

How users truly experience your product should outshine all opinions, viewpoints, and personal preferences in your organization. To connect with users and build an experience they’ll love, use Hotjar’s product experience (PX) insights tools and bring your design hypotheses to life:

3. Figure out what works, what doesn’t, and why

With users at the center of your design, your products are guaranteed to resonate. 

However, in a design by committee environment, you’re inevitably going to be faced with the "Well, I’m a user" argument from stakeholders when they voice their feedback. While that may be true, they may not be the target audience for the product, and reacting to every piece of feedback by making a change is not always productive. 

By its nature, design by committee invites a group of people—who may or may not have experience with the product—to contribute feedback without necessarily considering functionality and user needs. 

This produces a range of assumptions about what should take priority in a design project without having the facts to back up those assumptions. It also eats up project budget and precious production hours by forcing designers to test out flawed stakeholder assumptions instead of drawing on design expertise from the start.

Inform your collaborative decisions with insights into real users' habits, behaviors, frustrations, and needs. To get an unbiased view of how visitors interact with your live designs and prototypes, use these PX tools to your advantage:

4. Minimize personal feedback

Once you’ve conducted your research, you can sift through all the data—quantitative and qualitative—to organize your findings and present your research, asking stakeholders to give feedback about how it fits with your users’ challenges and needs (instead of theirs). 

Once you begin sharing your output, things will be challenged by stakeholders. With the compelling data and insights you’ve gathered about your users’ experience with your product—and how you’ve used these learnings to inform product and design decisions—you’ll be better equipped to deal with these challenges.

Customer insights will also prove useful when explaining the rationale and justification behind rejecting someone’s idea. Describing why an individual opinion doesn’t align with what the market is quantifiably telling you removes emotion from the equation and won’t ruffle as many feathers.

If someone insists that their idea should still be considered, maintain that proper user testing is required to validate their hypothesis. Asking someone to take on the burden of proving their point can diminish the urgency of them just getting their way

Pro tip: design better product experiences with continuous discovery.

Continuous discovery allows your product team to question assumptions, learn how users really think, and constantly improve the products you deliver. 

Just as you never stop testing your product, user and product research doesn’t stop, either. You'll learn something new with every analytics check-up, session recording, or open-ended survey. When you use that information wisely, you’ll translate more knowledge into more revenue.

5. Get buy-in from who matters

Getting buy-in for your design decisions is usually the hardest part of the battle. To avoid the setback that design by committee can impose at this stage in the design process, gather compelling data and user feedback that proves your suggestion is the right way forward.

Here are a few tips for securing buy-in for your ideas:

  • Build a business case: don’t hesitate to communicate your reasoning and ideas. Instead, build a visual case to present to senior management for changes you’d like to make and use PX insights to share unbiased, reliable data about your users. 

  • Align senior stakeholders on the user experience: when stakeholders can see when users have a negative experience in the product, it helps to secure buy-in for the product opportunity. 

  • Tie user needs with business objectives: correlate UX design changes to business objectives when making your case. This removes subjectivity and gut feelings from the equation and impresses your boss and colleagues by giving them insights they never had before.

For most projects, you’re going to have a lot of stakeholders to convince. Showing real user data from Hotjar really helps get their attention.

Michael Aagaard
Senior Conversion Optimizer, Unbounce

Collaborative design that works

Collaborative design is less about working together, and more about working together well. By avoiding design by committee, teams can collaborate in a way that benefits them and their goals, and keeps the product moving forward.

Most importantly, by creating a cross-functional collaboration and communication culture, you can design products that put your users first and bring diverse inputs and data into the product build. A PX insights tool like Hotjar adds to the process, helping you find improvement opportunities, run usability tests, make informed decisions, and share user research insights with your team.

Whether you're a 10 or 500-person company, the processes and the foundations you put into place today will help everybody stay on the same page tomorrow.

Hotjar helps you design products that resonate

Hotjar's product experience insights guide product teams to prioritize brilliantly and focus on what matters: designing a product your customers love.

FAQs about design by committee