Identity by committee is…a challenge. Whether it’s a branding project, a rebrand, or even a simple logo design, it’s tough enough without the addition of five or ten other people who all have their own agendas.
Is it possible to survive the design-by-committee gauntlet? Skeptics understandably abound. Even how-to’s often seem to have a less-than-optimistic tone. Many have tried, but few have succeeded. Tales of loss and casualty are too numerous to count.
However, in our experience, it’s possible not only to survive the identity-by-committee process, but to thrive.
By following these seven practical steps, it is entirely possible not only to develop a solution that all parties are happy with (board members and design team alike), but that really works for the organization.
A quick word before we dig in: We’re talking specifically about logo design, but these things apply to all identity and design projects—branding, rebrand, website, trifold brochure, you name it. So feel free to swap out “logo” with [insert your project] as needed.
1. What does it have to say? Remember that your logo is communication, not decoration.
Branding exists to say something. Therefore, logos exist to say something. They’re not business-card or building-front decor. Therefore, everyone in the committee needs to agree on what this logo absolutely has to say.
Does it need to say, for example, that you’re fun or serious? Sentimental or sober? Industrial or feminine? Warm or cool? Strong or sensitive? Clinical or personal? Mature or silly?
What does this logo need to say? What should your target customer know about you when they see it? The committee has to unanimously agree on this in order to have success.
2. What does it have to include? Agree on a core set of non-negotiables.
Certain things say certain things. We all know that instinctively. Roman columns convey strength and formality. Kindergartner-like handwriting conveys playfulness. In the same way, the committee should agree on core set of non-negotiable elements that best represent what the logo needs to say.
“The goal of the logo-design process is to come up with a solution that tells your story to your target customer. Anything that doesn’t do that is wrong.”
It might be the organization’s name, or the name plus business/service (i.e., Rodriguez Dental Office). It might be a landmark, or initials turned into an icon. It might be an abstract mark that symbolizes progress or movement. Or it might be something literal—like a cupcake for a bakery, or a Bible for a church.
If the committee can’t agree on a core set of non-negotiable elements that the logo needs to include, disaster looms.
3. Remember your target customer!
The logo, like the brand, has to make sense not to anyone or everyone, but to a specific someone—namely, your target customer. More than that, it has to appeal to your target customer. It has to talk to them in way that they not only understand, but are attracted to.
If the primary issue for committee members is ‘What I like’ as opposed to ‘What’s most meaningful for the customers we exist to serve?,’ get ready for a bumpy ride.
4. If possible, agree to entrust one person with final, executive authority.
This might be tough, but if at all possible, do it. This will give you a tremendously-effective safety net in the event of stalemates, indecision, or lack of consensus.
Ideally, the executive should be mature, selfless, a good listener, someone who has conviction about the brand and who knows the target market, and who has a sense for good design.
In short, it should be someone with both integrity and vision.
Think about it: Group discussions work best when there’s a moderator. Anarchist coups can’t function (ironically) without a field general. In the same way, logo-design committees work best when everyone in the group agrees to give final, executive, decision-making authority to one person.
If you can do that, you’re well on your way to success.
The Atascadero Chamber rebrand project is an example of just one instance in which we’ve been able to guide a board through a rebrand process. Oh, by the way, it only took 1 version with 0 revisions. And there was 120% satisfaction all around. View the full project.
5. Let preferences guide design choices, not control them.
The real problem with logo-design committees isn’t opinionated committee members. It’s inflexible people who can’t see past their own aesthetic flavors of the month. They don’t care about anything else—not their fellow board members, not the customer, not the informed perspective of the designer(s). They like what they like, end of story.
You see, the things we’ve talked about above—necessary communication, non-negotiable elements, target market, etc.—tell us what the logo needs to be. They set direction and remove subjectivity from the logo design process, because ultimately, it’s not subjective. Design doesn’t depend ‘on the eye of the beholder.’ It depends on whether or not it communicates the right message and meets the objectives.
Preferences inform direction, they don’t set it. They have their place, but they’re not the main thing. I may like hot pink, but if I’m a funeral home, I might want to strongly consider whether or not that’s in line with the objectives. Now, there may be a way I can make a shade of pink work, but I can’t let my infatuation with hot pink control my design decisions or hijack an entire committee. Just because I like it doesn’t mean it’s right for this project.
Committee members need to consciously give their own personal preferences a back seat to the things that are most important. If they can do this, they have literally removed about 90% of everything that can cause problems.
6. Choose an attitude of others-centered humility, not ‘me-first-screw-everyone-else’ arrogance.
The root problem in all personal conflicts isn’t picky people or different opinions. It’s selfishness, end of story. It’s a ‘me first’ attitude that refuses to budge for anyone else.
“‘Me first’ attitudes become cancerous hijackers that undermine entire projects.”
When people bring that kind of an attitude into a logo design committee—forgetting their co-laborers around them, forgetting the customers they’re supposed to be serving—they become cancerous hijackers who undermine the entire project.
By contrast, humility facilitates effectiveness, creativity, progress, communication, and every other good thing that a logo-design committee (or any collective endeavor) needs in order to be successful. Priority A-1 for each committee member should be to choose to serve others and to give preference to everyone else.
Let everyone in the committee do just this one thing, and watch all problems magically iron themselves out.
7. Trust your designer.
Ideally, the designer you’re working with should be experienced, passionate, knowledgeable, creative, and a great communicator.
In other words, they should be an expert in their field just like you’re an expert in yours.
If that’s the case, trust their input in design matters, and give serious weight to their recommendations.
Conclusion: The process is only as strong as the one leading it.
Do these seven things, and your identity-by-committee project will be spectacularly victorious.
The design process is always only as strong as whoever’s leading it, and that ultimately falls on the shoulders of the designer, who you’ve paid to oversee the work.
Well, not to brag, but that’s what we do best. Our process is so air-tight that we haven’t had any major revisions on any project going on five years.
If your organization is looking at a rebrand but you’re afraid your committee won’t be able to come together to see it through, contact us today. Our time-tested, battle-worn approach can lead any project to success—even with a committee as diverse as yours.