Shepherding Designs Through Committee: Part 3

Conference RoomThis is the final in a series of posts about the committee review process often used for decision making about designs. (Read Part 1 and Part 2.) In Part 3, I complete the discussion about how to make this often unavoidable process less painful and more successful.

Provide the committee with the relevant context.
For communication, context is everything and sharing design comps with a committee is definitely a form of communication. Context for the unveil of design concepts should include references to the agreed upon strategy. Always begin by reminding the committee about the goals, audience, and general objectives for the project. So if, for example, you are questioned about a seemingly minimal interface for a website design, you can remind the committee that mobile-ready content was a goal for the project.

More context needed by the committee reviewing designs is the general data that you have about your audience demographic (e.g., personas and market research) and the specific results you have from testing the design concepts with the target audience (e.g., results from focus groups or surveys). As you explain the design concepts, include references to what you know about the behaviors and preferences of your target demographic. So for a photo-rich print piece, you might reference that alumni responded very favorably to the range and number of photos in the design. The benefit of sharing the data from your concept testing is that the discussion about the design is then centered around the real preferences of the audience, not the subjective preferences of individuals on the committee.

Guide the committee toward providing useful and structured feedback.
A committee of non-experts needs direction on how to provide useful feedback. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that, absent a structured way to offer responses to the design under review, people fall back on their personal preferences. Just prior to showing a set of design comps, indicate that you’d like to follow a structured process for gathering feedback after the presentation. Let the committee know that you’ll explain the details for how they’ll offer feedback after you talk through the concepts. Consider the following:

  • Don’t set it up to seem like voting. Watch your language and the questions you ask. Avoid giving the impression that the extent of the committee’s feedback is telling you which one they like best.
  • Ask for feedback that is specific. Don’t rely on openended questions like, “What do you think of this design?” or “Which design do you like the most?” Instead, use a more focused question like, “How well does this design communicate that our students are talented, interesting, and fun?” or “How well does this design communicate that our college offers high quality academics and a strong liberal arts curriculum?”
  • Consider asking people to first respond individually (using a paper survey) before the committee begins a group discussion about the designs. There is a herd mentality that frequently erupts when a committee discusses a design. Often, all will agree to whatever is said by the highest paid person. Or, people will feed obligated to offer opinions on aspects they don’t care much about just to be seen as contributing to the committee’s work.
  • If someone other than the designer is presenting the comps, encourage the designer to attend the committee meeting. Having the designer present to answer questions means the committee can hear directly about particular choices and decisions. A side benefit is that tweaks to the design are always easier after a designer hears the feedback directly.

Let’s wrap this series with a few outtakes. Sometimes, designers say things that don’t inspire confidence with the review committee. In addition to the five recommendations examined here, start strong. Avoid these phrases and you may be able to reduce the length of time required for design by committee activity on your campus:

“I’m still working on this but here’s where I’ve landed so far.”

“I hope you like this but it’s easy enough to change if you don’t.”

“I didn’t have as much time to spend on this as I’d have liked.”

“Once we have the copy and photography, this will fall into place. And, any color works.”

The bottom line? Prepare to educate the committees you work with. Help them understand the type of feedback you need as designers. Help them focus them on the target audience for better results. Then, present your case!

(This first appeared as a feature in the Summer 2013 edition UCDA Designer Magazine. “Shepherding Designs Through Committee” was published as Vol. 38, No. 2.)


Author: susantevans

Susan T. Evans is director of corporate and foundations relations at the College of William & Mary. She is a proven strategic leader with deep expertise in advancement, communications, brand management, marketing, digital strategy, technology, administration and organizational development. She is known for creative and strategic approaches to challenges within higher education, nonprofits and business.

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