What A Christmas Tree Trek Can Teach Us About Design By Committee

  •   Krista Myers

By Krista Myers

Let’s pick out a tree, they said. It’ll be fun, they said.

The theory behind design by committee is that by not having a precise plan a team of people will end up creating greatness by working through the creative process together. Sometimes, this can work. In fact, the initial step often involves strategizing with very little direction, really just hashing out all possible ideas.

Turns out, this process strongly resembles the act of choosing a Christmas tree.

[Enter seven members of a small agency looking to enhance their bare office with festive holiday décor.]

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Our journey begins at Folklore Coffee, where we charge our tree search with coffee and a light breakfast. It’s a bland winter day, a brisk 43 degrees with a slight breeze. The ground is not only wet with dew but soppy from three prior days of rain and no sun to soak it up. Boots are preferred, though not everyone got the memo.

Around 10am, we venture out to Miller’s Christmas Tree Farm, a local field where customers have the option to choose a precut tree - meh - or trek through acres of fresh evergreens to cut down their tree with a hacksaw.

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Just as most design by committee processes start, we planned very little. Nevermind that the farm didn’t open until 12pm. We weren’t going back to the office at that point.

So, out we went to claim our tree.

At first we stayed in a group, subtly arguing about the state of each suggested tree. "Too skinny!" "Too sparse!" they shouted. After 10 minutes of this it was clear we needed to split up. Designing by committee will often run into a similar issue. With an unclear vision each person could be on a different page, making it more difficult to agree on a solution depending on how passive or bullheaded your teammates are. At the same time, it allows for creative juices to flow freely because you’re not stuck within a defined scope.

Working within the confines of a somewhat distinct tree height and a shapely figure doesn’t exactly constitute as a scope. Still, it seemed we weren’t progressing with any possible winners.

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Once we started covering more ground, we were able to narrow our picks and eventually come together with a more viable list to choose from. The process was by no means painful, but way more time consuming than we’d anticipated. Either way, we tagged our tree with an old grocery list and returned to the office without a scratch.

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Let's recap:

  1. Planning is important. Although we were able to fit our outing into our own schedule, the fact that the tree farm didn’t open for another two hours actually ended up cutting into more time as we had to return to cut down our tagged tree.
  2. Vision (even with very few parameters) helps narrow your choices. While nothing was set in stone, we knew we had to fit a tree in a room no more than 8 feet high. As long as it wasn't hideously mishaped, we had a path.
  3. Group contribution can make or break you. Forty-five minutes later we were finally able to agree on a suitable tree. We got there, but it's likely less brains would have halved the time.

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Relatives or not, agreeing on the perfect tree is no small feat. Hopefully the next time you are looking to make creative decisions about your website, branding, or christmas tree, some of these points will help guide you.

Photos by Aly Keen & Krista Myers


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