Dec 16, 2013

Design is not a democracy


Democracy is an ideology we’ve grown to love and historically fought for (still fighting in some cases) over the years. As human beings we share our opinions which need to be acknowledged and sometimes, incorporated by others.

Unfortunately while democracy flourishes in politics it can be quite dangerous in the design realm. Remember the saying “Too many cooks spoil the broth”? With too many people involved, lack of proper communication and responsibility you might end up with seriously over-cooked soup.

There’s no shipping with democratic design. There’s stagnation.

Creation and then exhibition (shipping) of our creations is the ultimate goal. But how can we avoid stagnation and infinite feedback loops that the try-to-include-everyone approach brings?

Learn to trust

Designers are hired to do a certain job. Like a plumber fixes your leaking sink, we build and fix experiences that make peoples’ lives easier and thus, more pleasant.

With no trust there’s no design.

Unfortunately, we will fail if there is no trust. Trust is fundamental in human relations — both personal and professional, yet often is so lacking. Our clients tend to be scared and feel the need to control the process to avoid failure. Somehow, the trust that led them to hire us vanishes when they are presented with actual work that needs to be accepted.

We need to learn to trust each other. Trust our co-workers that tasks they own will be completed. Trust that the people we hired will use their expertise to our benefit. Trust their judgement and knowledge. If not, decisions will be always questioned and designs will never see the light of the day.

Take ownership

The lack of trust closely correlates to who takes ownership of a project. It’s easier to distrust flaky and uncertain figures. Often though, leaders have strong personalities. They’re not afraid to speak up and say: “Stop” when someone’s overstepping.

Ownership doesn’t imply dictatorship.

One could say this suggests that every single decision is made by the project owner. Nothing could be more wrong. Ownership assigns responsibility, both for success and failure. It enforces being as good of a listener as a dictator. Ownership is one of the key ingredients to getting things done.

Leadership doesn’t necessarily lay in the hands of designers though. If that isn’t the case, our job is to trust their judgement, give valuable feedback and empower them to create.

Request feedback responsibly

Being able to give, and more importantly receive, feedback is crucial. It’s easy to get offended and treat feedback personally. To doubt our skills. While some amount of reasonable self-doubt is necessary, the important thing to remember is that by requesting and getting feedback we make our creations better: No man is a an island.

Feedback is essential. Constructive feedback is priceless.

We need to learn to let go of our personal taste and preferences. Learn to hear (see Take ownership), but also learn to say “this is good enough”.


Design is by nature an iterative process. As much as we want to avoid design by the committee (unless you want a horse instead of a camel) we need contributions from others to make it happen. The key is to be responsible about the help you’re given.

There’s no perfection, nor will there ever be. Embrace it.