• A camel is a horse designed by committee
    04/10/18 News

    A camel is a horse designed by committee

     

    Many of us know the saying “A camel is a horse designed by committee”, denigrating the aesthetics of a camel. To quote another saying however, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.

    We all know the camel is in fact a creature perfectly suited to its habitat and that a thoroughbred horse would quickly become the archetypal pile of parched white bones in those arid conditions. Furthermore, unless you take the old testament literally, the camel was not ‘designed’ at all of course – it evolved over many hundreds of thousands of years to become the “ship of the desert”.

    “What have camels and horses to do with graphic design?” I hear you ask. Well, very little is the honest answer. I want to talk about the involvement of committees in the creative process and it just seemed like a good introduction.

    With graphic design and more particularly branding and corporate identity, things work a little differently to natural selection and evolution. Although sometimes it might seem not as quickly.

    Often a client will tell us they want a distinctive logo that stands out and shows their individuality (I do shudder whenever a client uses the words eye-catching, so please don’t). However, in my experience, the involvement of a committee can have the effect of creating bland results – knocking off those corners and ironing out the features that offer that distinction. Imagine a world where everyone had perfect proportions, perfect teeth, a perfect face, perfect complexion, etc. Nobody would be memorable and no-one would stand out from the crowd. Because committees work by consensus, they don’t tend to take the distinctive option, unless a member has the skills to really force something through. That can happen, but it’s fair to say it’s rare.

    Often when working on logo design, we will start with a “scatter gun” approach where several designs are suggested, one of which the client should select. This we would then develop further and a logo would evolve. However, what sometimes happens – particularly when a committee or group of people is concerned – is we are asked to see what it looks like if we take the lettering from logo A, the icon from logo B and the colour from logo C and put them together. Sometimes this can work, but more often it can make the brand confused and messy. However the committee will look at their minutes, check it against what we have done and the box will be ticked. 

    Sometimes a designer will hedge their bets and, as well as distinctive, creative, energetic designs, they might offer a ‘safe’ option. Hoping that the client will go for one of the funky ones but knowing they will almost certainly go for the conservative option. Being pragmatic (I have to make a living) and diplomatic, sometimes it is hard to fight these issues and the designer will feel pressured to just do it and get the invoice in.

     

    What’s the answer?

    In my view, it’s about responsibility. I’ve worked on a number of committees and for countless clients and best results are always obtained when FEWER people are directly involved. Committees work best when individuals are given clear responsibilities and have the trust in other members to see their own responsibilities through. 

    So the approach I would recommend is to make use of a sub-committee of no more than three who will take responsibility to formulate a brief and sell that in to the committee and get agreement. They can then give the designer a clear, well-defined brief. The sub-committee can decide whether the designer has met the considerations of that brief with their designs and, if not, get them to adjust the work accordingly and re-present.

    Don’t offer too many options! I would recommend the sub committee just show their preferred choice to the main committee almost as fait accompli and ONLY show other options if there are genuine solid objections.

     

    Great clear camel headshot

    Opinions

    Everyone has an opinion on a logo but actually what’s important is not whether you like it or not, it’s:

    1) Is it distinctive? 

    2) Is it offensive? 

    3) Does it clash directly with the image we want to put across? 

    and 

    4) Is it distinctive?

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