Death by Design by Committee – Why Too Many Decision Makers can Be Bad for Your Video

Collaboration is a fascinating thing. When people work together to create something, the result is often something very special – something greater than the sum of its parts. In his own right, Paul McCartney would have probably written some catchy songs – but combined with John Lennon’s irreverent lyrics, George Harrison’s catchy leads, and Ringo’s inventive drumming, the music of The Beatles became something more – something that neither one of them could have made alone. That’s collaboration at its best.

But creating with other people has its pitfalls (as The Beatles would well admit). Creative visions don’t always align, and sometimes they diverge so sharply that they cause an irreparable rift (see: Yoko Ono). This is important to keep in mind, not least of all in the production of video.

Film is one of the most collaborative art forms in the world. Even a simple video usually demands the skills of several individuals. When a business or any other organization embarks on the journey of producing a video, there are even more people involved in the project. The team may include scriptwriters, editors, project managers, directors, actors – but also stakeholders like marketers, agency reps, and executives. A lot of people need to work together, and a lot of people need to be happy with the results.

As many organizations have learned, one clear danger can emerge out of this kind of scenario: it’s called “Design By Committee”, and it has left millions of creative projects in its destructive wake.

Design By Committee happens when a large number of people provide creative direction on a single project, and then all that direction is mashed together into one final outcome. The committee then looks upon its creation – a Frankenstein of discrepant creative decisions – and calls it an abomination. Chased out of town by a mob of pitchfork-wielding townspeople, the project lurches off into the woods and never again sees the light of day. Then the committee forms another committee to figure out what went wrong.

So how do we avoid this?

The solution is simpler than you might think. When many individuals are working together to create something, they need to work in smaller teams to discuss and consolidate their creative input. This means, however, that one person’s ideas will sometimes have to supercede another person’s ideas. This is an unfortunate necessity of large collaborations – but a necessity nonetheless.

This is especially true in the case of video. For a video to work, many things need to work together. The music should fit the imagery, which should fit the spoken content, which should fit the key messaging, which should fit the overall purpose of the video. Not everybody needs to agree on what kind of music they like, but there needs to be consensus on the overall purpose and basic creative parameters of the video. That’s why we, and other creative agencies, always use a Creative Brief – a master document which outlines the objectives of the video, and which serves as a prime directive for all creative decisions.

If the old saying is true, and “too many cooks will spoil the broth”, then the best solution is simply to refer to the recipe. Keep this in mind, and you can avoid the Design By Committee scenario.