Do you know what a camel is? Yes I do mean that unattractive, surly desert creature which spits and bites. Ever wonder how it ended up looking that way? Well some people believe a camel is a horse designed by a committee.

It started with a group of well meaning individuals who each had a specific feature they felt was vital. Accommodating all the features required trade-offs and compromises.

The result?

  • The large flat feet work well on the sand, but they are offset by long thin legs which make it difficult to mount.
  • The camel is able to store large amounts of food and water in the large hump on its back. This allows survival in the desert but it isn’t a very comfortable ride.
  • With all the attention to function, there wasn’t a lot of thought given to what it looked like. The camel isn’t pretty or cute.

Okay, I know that isn’t really what happened, but the metaphor rings pretty true as we work with committees on web design projects. Everyone comes to the table committed to the success of the project. Each person is passionate about their key feature. If there is a strong team leader guiding the process and good communication, the result is a well conceived, well executed site. If there isn’t, well, let’s say we occasionally end up with a camel.

So, if you are building a website for your organization with multiple stakeholders, what can you do to prevent the development of a camel instead of a horse?

1. Start with education. Particularly with volunteer boards filled with passionate, talented people who may never have worked on a project like this before, education is key. A kickoff meeting gives you an opportunity to get everyone on the same page about how the project will work and what their role will be throughout.

2. Clear project guidelines. This prevents scope creep once the design process has started.

3. Develop the project schedule; make sure to include milestone dates for when feedback and input will be required. Creating and sticking to a schedule for timely feedback is important for every web project, but it is crucial when you are working with a committee. There needs to be a firm cut off. One of the most challenging parts of the project is getting good feedback from 90 percent of the committee. Then two weeks later, after you have already moved on to the next thing the one person who hadn’t gotten around to giving their feedback wants to go back and reopen a conversation, or reverse a decision.

4. One person needs to have the final say. While it is good to have lots of input, ultimately there needs to be someone in the organization who collects the feedback, mediates the conflicting opinions and ultimately makes the decisions when the committee can’t.

Remember, it is impossible to please everyone. When you do, you end up watering down the website so everyone is satisfied, and but no one is delighted. Plan ahead, get clarity on what people want and you will end up with a racehorse, not a camel.

Getting ready to start your web design project? Read this guide first!