Does a great design genius really work alone? There’s this idea in our culture that a genius of any type, think Einstein or Picasso or Hemingway, created his masterpieces in isolation. While a great idea originates in one person’s mind, the execution of the idea often requires collaboration.
Collaboration isn’t “Design by Committee”
Collaboration is the positive term for a group working together on a creative process. Sometimes, you’ll hear the negative term “Design by Committee.” I recently searched online for this phrase, and every single result was negative, including one article that stated “Design by Committee Should Die.” While I agree that too many cooks in the kitchen certainly can ruin a creative process, it’s wrong to assume that great design always happens in seclusion.
Collaboration in the design and execution of an object is as old as the history of objects themselves. When a studio potter creates a vessel to be wood fired, all the other potters come to help with the firing. This is an ancient process. Wood firing can take days and multiple people to achieve. Although the original potter may have conceptualized the design, the final product is the result of many hands working together.
In today’s society, design also depends on a larger economic process. A designer who wants to stay true to her own creative vision can’t ignore the bank that is funding her work, the customer who will eventually purchase it, or the many people along the way who help get the final product from her mind to the end user.
Can it truly be said that the potter or the designer is solely responsible for her work?
Creativity happens in context
Great designers of the modern era have sometimes had to reconsider their creative options based on the economic climate. Students at The Bauhaus (New School) used metal discarded from the First World War, instead of wood, to create tubular steel chairs and other metalwork with a characteristic modern functionality.
These students did not design in a vacuum; they used the creative energy from their academic and collaborative environment to produce a lasting body of functional and beautiful objects, made from available materials.
Great design crosses boundaries
Henry Ford’s design, development, and production of the Model A automobile revolutionized the production process for industrial design. Louis Comfort Tiffany saw the economic value in Henry Ford’s process, and deemed it worthy enough to bring aspects of the production line to the making of Tiffany lamps.
What are your experiences with collaboration or with design by committee?
Do you feel that the heart of great design is in the idea, the execution, or a combination of the two?