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13th of Dec. 2009

Too Many Cooks

By Yaron Schoen


Related links that inspired or helped me create this article.

Imagine the following scenario: all six Iron Chefs are crammed into a small kitchen with the following assignment - make one three-egg omelet, but do it together as a team. The result would probably be six extremely talented people struggling to make one simple dish, a combination of too many opinions that results in failure of production.

What applies to the kitchen also applies to design. I have worked on many projects, where even the most experienced teams fall into the trap of adding more and more people and opinions into the decision making loop. This issue obviously effects the project in a whole, but more so it effects the work of a designer and his/her productivity. Since design is something that people tend to think is “a matter of taste”, many feel free to comment on coloring, layout and style. What is funny is that usually the least trained eyes have the most comments.

Many think that this problem is specific to organizational size. Obviously larger organizations with many layers of bureaucratic overhead and different levels of hierarchy tend to produce these sort of issues. That said, this issue is definitely not reserved for large companies. ...small companies are not immune to this phenomenon.With leadership issues and lack of experience, small companies are not immune to this phenomenon. As with many aspects to a single project, design should have one benevolent dictator which is usually a welcome alternative to the chaos of democracy. Small companies or teams tend to ignore this rule, since usually there is a feeling of combined effort and pro-activeness which in turn translates into a mess of opinions on coloring and spacing, a decision that should rest on the shoulders of the designer alone.

I guess what I am trying to say here is, when you begin a new project try to settle the decision hierarchy right away. This will help avoid any mixed opinions and will make the flow much easier and quicker. This obviously does not mean you’re team cannot express their opinion, on the contrary. New, fresh opinions can help the creative process, it can highlight areas that the designer has not seen or thought of. The key is to know how to gather all the different opinions and feel safe with the fact that there will inevitably be one person that decides which opinion to adopt and which to throw away. This rule should be applied to any component that deals with decision making on a daily basis, not only to design.

Recently I have been blessed to work with amazing teams on my personal projects and on client work, I cannot really complain that I have been seeing this problem rise lately. That said, in the past I have seen my share of the “too many cooks in the kitchen” and can feel the pain of any designer who goes through this. My only advise would be to stay strong and fight for the right to design.

Comments (3)

So what do you think? The world wants to know!

Christopher Meeks
December 21, 2009

I couldn’t agree with you more on this one.

I’ll add another important factor when working with a group of people. I try to make it a habit to challenge people who are critiquing to be specific with their feedback. “I don’t like it” isn’t actionable. “I think the spacing looks weird” isn’t actionable.

If those people can successfully communicate WHY they don’t like it, then there can be a productive debate on the merits associated with different options.

Side note: Killer design on this site. I love the trend started by Santa Maria of custom designs per post. It adds so much to the medium. Trent Walton does it very well also.

Yaron Schoen
December 22, 2009

Well said, usually feedback that is given to a designer runs along the lines of “I dont like it” or “looks weird” or even “doesn’t pop”. Since most of the feedback providers are not designers, it is hard for them to explain in terms that actually makes sense to us. But beware, the worst cases of “bad” feedback are actually designers or CDs that say stuff like that…

BTW thanks for the compliment! I put alot of love into my new site. Since I am not that much of a writer I have decided to keep it short and let the design speak. The trend of custom designs I actually first saw here: http://abriefmessage.com/ but Santa Maria definitely gave it a new life. I am not aware of Trent Walton I will look him up.

December 31, 2009

What marvelous ideas you have! A very creative mind indeed.As a customer I have no clue what designers must go through.I do know what I like and the “love"you have put into your site certainly shows!
Kayyla in Canada