Design by Committee (was OSD)

23 Mar 2004 - 7:58am
10 years ago
8 replies
443 reads
Dan Saffer
2003

Something that hasn't really been talked about in our discussion on
open source design is the fact that by advocating open source design,
you are basically advocating design by committee. A group of people
instead of one person will provide the vision and direction for a
product.

My open questions are: Is this a bad thing? Have we moved into an era
when individual designers matter less? Is the work we do so dependent
on teams (both for development of the product itself and for the deep
subject matter knowledge experts that are often required) that all our
designs are really collaborative? This is not even to mention the
intensity of some user-centric design, in which users are involved in
all phases of the project--even, in some cases, before a designer gets
there.

Dan

Dan Saffer
M.Des. Candidate, Interaction Design
Carnegie Mellon University
http://www.odannyboy.com

Comments

22 Mar 2004 - 8:08pm
Gunnar Langemark
2004

As I recall it Linus Torvalds is called "The benevolent dictator" among friends.
Also Dries on Drupal has the last word!

Committee - I see it every day in a non open source company. It has more to do
with common culture than with the nature of the license.

Gunnar

> Something that hasn't really been talked about in our discussion on
> open source design is the fact that by advocating open source design,
> you are basically advocating design by committee. A group of people
> instead of one person will provide the vision and direction for a
> product.
>
Best
Gunnar Langemark
gunnar at langemark.com

23 Mar 2004 - 8:31am
CD Evans
2004

Yes, I was going to say the same thing. Design by Committee is standard
practice nowadays.

CD Evans

On 23 Mar 2004, at 02:08, gunnar wrote:

> As I recall it Linus Torvalds is called "The benevolent dictator"
> among friends.
> Also Dries on Drupal has the last word!
>
> Committee - I see it every day in a non open source company. It has
> more to do
> with common culture than with the nature of the license.
>
> Gunnar
>
>> Something that hasn't really been talked about in our discussion on
>> open source design is the fact that by advocating open source design,
>> you are basically advocating design by committee. A group of people
>> instead of one person will provide the vision and direction for a
>> product.
>>

23 Mar 2004 - 9:02am
Ben Hunt
2004

-----------------------
// Dan proposed:
// A group of people instead of one person will provide the vision and direction for a product.

// Steve Jobs has said:
// Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up
// expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.
-----------------------

The discussion in yesterday's London meeting started from +ACI-Design as Language Development?+ACI-

There were various opinions on whether the physical building blocks of visual interfaces, for example, could equate to the building blocks of language (nouns, verbs, phrases). I'm firmly of the opinion that the language we use currently appears too complex and rich to start to deconstruct into concrete elements. For me, studying the language is a macro-level activity more akin to English Literature (its use in context) than simply word+AD0-meaning.

As to the chances of design by committee succeeding, I'm with Steve Jobs. The team needs to hold the vision, character, soul of an emerging product, and that requires a critical mass of intense ownership and sympathy. The interaction designer should embody the character of the design like a character actor embodies their role. One person needs to hold the vision. That's not to say it's impossible for two or more people to hold +ACo-a+ACo- vision, but it won't work as well, because separation needs communication, which wastes energy. The more people, the more energy seeps out.

-----------------------
You don+IBk-t do good software design by committee. You do it best by having a dictator. From the user+IBk-s point of view, you must have a coherent design philosophy, and I don+IBk-t see how that could come about from open source software. The person who+IBk-s done it best is Steve Jobs, and he+IBk-s well-known for being a tyrant.

Don Norman
-----------------------

- Ben Hunt

23 Mar 2004 - 9:15am
Rick Cecil
2004

> Yes, I was going to say the same thing. Design by Committee is
> standard practice nowadays.

Which begs the question: what do you mean by Design by Committee?

Do you mean a group of designers working together to build something
useful? Or a group of managers with conflicting agendas who use the
designer as a pixel-pusher?

And I would say that design by committee is the latter. The former is a
design team tackling a project.

To ensure that you have a team and not a committee working on a
project--any project, everyone should

a) focus on developing a solid product and not furthering their own
agenda

b) understands their role in the design process

-Rick

23 Mar 2004 - 9:22am
Peter Bagnall
2003

(forgot to send to list first time!).

This is what I was getting at when I said that the person who starts a
project has control. My own view is that a certain coherence of vision
is vital, and that design by committee generally (almost always I
think) mean that you lose that coherence. Once a project is well
established the vision is easier for others to pick up on.

There are quite a few open source projects out there that started
closed, got to a certain point where they decided that they had a
critical mass of code, and then opened.

My feeling is that the point in a project when you decide to open up is
critical. To early, and you lose coherence, to late and you don't get
the benefit of openness.

--Pete

On 23 Mar 2004, at 02:08, gunnar wrote:

> As I recall it Linus Torvalds is called "The benevolent dictator"
> among friends.
> Also Dries on Drupal has the last word!
>
> Committee - I see it every day in a non open source company. It has
> more to do
> with common culture than with the nature of the license.
>
> Gunnar
>
>> Something that hasn't really been talked about in our discussion on
>> open source design is the fact that by advocating open source design,
>> you are basically advocating design by committee. A group of people
>> instead of one person will provide the vision and direction for a
>> product.
>>
> Best
> Gunnar Langemark
> gunnar at langemark.com
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------------------------------------------------------------------------
-----
For a list of all the ways technology has failed to improve
the quality of life, please press three.
- Alice Kahn

Peter Bagnall - http://www.surfaceeffect.com/

23 Mar 2004 - 9:50am
Dave Malouf
2005

The "by committee" phrase is always used when people don't like the outcome
or practice, but the use of multiple intelligences being applied toward
solutions is an invaluable working tool. No one person can cover projects
that are too big. We all need help.

I also think that owning a vision needs to be something that is shared by
all on a project and while Jobs is seen as a great vision owner, I would by
no means call this an ideal at all.

Also, doesn't Cooper work in design teams of 2 (designer and design
communicator)? I like this model a lot.

Now how does this translate in an open source world.

First off, I think this was put in the wrong thread. In OSD (Open Source
Design) we are talking about making design methods open source, not the
programs that are created using those methods. I think this thread is more
OSP (Open Source Programming) and if there is a place for IxD or any UCD in
an OSP model. The example of Drupal is interesting in this regard.

Here's what is of interest to me in OSP ... How can context and other
experience requirements be brought into the OS process for developing
software? Does this mean design "by committee"? Hmm? Maybe ... But I have no
vision for how this would work.

-- dave

22 Mar 2004 - 10:15pm
Gunnar Langemark
2004

This thread is becoming quite a lot more interesting than I anticipated at first.
Perhaps because it gives me an opportunity to bring out one of my pet peeve
hobby horses from the stables (sorry about the bad imagery I may have provoked
now :-)).

I think design by committee is a derogative term for projects with no head. I
think rightfully so.

At a recent conference on Information Architecture I had the opportunity to
discuss a little of this with Eric Reiss and Peter Morville and a few other
people in the IA loop.
I have a background in film, media and rhetorics, and as such I often find
similarities between film theory and the web/computer media discussions.

In film theory there's well known paper by the german art historian Erwin
Panofsky where he likens the production of a film to the building of a
cathedral (no it is not the cathedral and the bazaar this). The film is a
"gesamtkunstwerk" - which basically means that a lot of professions are
required to finish the job. With a common goal and a few blueprints - the
medieval cathedrals were build (Don't even think to start a discussion about
the Free Masons and "The Da Vinci Code" ;-)). This is one way of looking at
web site building.

On the other hand there's also the so called "Auteur Theory" which claims that
a good film is the result of ONE VISIONARY MIND. French filmmakers in the
sixties (Truffaut, Goddard etc.) subscribed to this theory and were
responsible for elevating Alfred Hitchcock to star status as they recognized
him as an "Auteur". This is another way of looking at web site building.

Do we need a single visionary mind? In my opinion YES!

Do we need a number of professions? In my opinion YES!

What is the job? It is to define and communicate a common goal!
Is that possible? Not at all!
But we have to try, and whenever consensus breaks down - ask the benevolent
dictator!

That's just the way my experience tells me to work.

Best
Gunnar

> This is what I was getting at when I said that the person who starts
> a project has control. My own view is that a certain coherence of vision
> is vital, and that design by committee generally (almost always I
> think) mean that you lose that coherence. Once a project is well
> established the vision is easier for others to pick up on.

Gunnar Langemark
gunnar at langemark.com

24 Mar 2004 - 11:44am
Rob Adams
2004

On 3/23/04 8:58 AM, "Dan Saffer" <dan at odannyboy.com> wrote:

> Something that hasn't really been talked about in our discussion on
> open source design is the fact that by advocating open source design,
> you are basically advocating design by committee. A group of people
> instead of one person will provide the vision and direction for a
> product.
>
> My open questions are: Is this a bad thing? Have we moved into an era
> when individual designers matter less? Is the work we do so dependent
> on teams (both for development of the product itself and for the deep
> subject matter knowledge experts that are often required) that all our
> designs are really collaborative? This is not even to mention the
> intensity of some user-centric design, in which users are involved in
> all phases of the project--even, in some cases, before a designer gets
> there.

It's a common misunderstanding that open source software development
involves thousands of contributors making frequent, uncoordinated changes to
a common software product all at the same time. Raymond's comparison of OSS
to a bazaar probably led to this assumption. But it doesn't really work
this way; a chaotic process like that where no one was in charge wouldn't
work for software development any more than it would work for interaction
design.
As others have pointed out, there is always either a single benevolent
dictator or a small cabal of core developers in large OSS processes. A good
paper that describes how this works is "Two Case Studies of Open Source
Software Development: Apache and Mozilla" by Mockus, Fielding, and Herbsleb
(well actually it's fairly long and boring, but you can get the gist of it
with a good skim).
This is why I've advocated OSS processes with strong UCD leadership
among the core team to help keep the design vision on track. But it is true
that these designers will need to be comfortable leading a collaborative
design process rather than handing down design decisions from on high.

-- Rob
http://www.lokislabs.org/~loki/
http://roblog.org/

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