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design by committee

Design by committee is a term sometimes used to describe a design that is flawed because too many people provided input. The phrase implies a lack of a coherent vision and, perhaps as a result, a failure to successfully solve the problems the design was intended to solve. In a software development context, design by committee is a controversial issue. According to some experts, design by committee leads to overly long specifications with an overabundance of features (sometimes called feature creep ) and many inconsistent and/or redundant elements. In an interview in New Scientist , Donald Norman (author of the book The Design of Everyday Things ) said "You don't do good software design by committee. You do it best by having a dictator. From the user's point of view, you must have a coherent design philosophy..." Norman believes that one reason people still have difficulty learning how to use computers, for example, is the poor results of design by committee.

The World Wide Web Consortium ( W3C ), on the other hand, has spoken out in favor of design by committee. W3C working groups typically consist of 10 to 20 members collaborating on a technical specification for a year or more. Furthermore, the working group also solicits input through a public mailing list. According to a W3C report, design by committee doesn't deserve its bad reputation. To the contrary, the organization's report claims that a greater number of people working on a design bring more experience and creativity to the project and also have the ability to catch more errors.

This was last updated in September 2005

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