I recently got a call from one of my clients. In an exasperated tone, he asked me how I get people to agree on anything when it comes to design. He was in the middle of redoing his company’s website, and before he could even give me any direction about the design, he needed to figure out how his company should present their product solutions. Because he either didn’t want to or didn’t feel capable of making the decisions himself, or perhaps because he wanted to do some team building (a very popular concept in companies, and one with great merit), he had gathered people in a room to try and figure out what they needed to do. Everyone had an opinion of course, and many were in conflict. The question before him was how to get all these conflicts resolved and make everyone feel included.

I mumbled some answer that I felt was frankly missing something. I mulled it over later and came up with an answer:  the design process is not a democratic one. That’s the short answer really. The longer answer is a little more involved.

The design process should be treated the same as other disciplines we employ for business. Companies don’t go around asking everyone’s advice on financial, personnel or investment  matters. They hire people for their expertise, either as employees or outside consultants. They then look to these people for answers, not opinions or options.  Think about it. When we go to the doctor with a problem, we don’t want his opinion or choices for treatment. We want to be told what is best for us.

For many companies, there is no need for a full-time designer to handle the decision-making. As a result, companies sometimes attempt to fumble through things internally, trying to figure things out before giving it to a design firm to execute. The problem with this scenario is that they can easily misdiagnose the problem, so the remedy that’s created to fix the problem is ineffective.

Even when outside help is obtained, there can be problems when the design firm presents a number of options for consideration. The burden falls on people inside the company to make the decision. You can see the dilemma already. Like a patient having to decide which treatment is best, this poor person is left making decisions he or she feels unqualified to make. No wonder they go around asking for everyone’s opinion. 

The fact is, like any other consultant, a design firm should typically offer the one or two best solutions. That is what they are paid to do. 

Now to get back to my initial point. Design may not be democratic, but it can be inclusive. It can be very helpful for employees at companies to be informed along the way about directions that the company has decided on. This allows them to digest these changes in small bites rather than being forced to swallow it whole at the end. It also allows them to raise legitimate concerns sooner rather than later. What’s important is that along the way, you frame things properly so they know what they are allowed to comment on and what they are not.