EVO Designs article on "Design by Committee"

I’m curious what everyone thought of the Evo design article on “Design by Committee.”

To me it appears that Evo did a poor job of managing the design brief and communicating with their clients.

I’m unimpressed by the apparent lack of design process. For example, the design director “wanted his products to be spicy.” Self-referential design? Seriously? What about the market? Later she comments that “six weeks of extensive research” were spent exploring fabrics that fit their concept. What about the market? To make it worse, they later learn they shouldn’t have even done this work and they loose their shirts partly as a result. What about their customer? Did they really wait 6 weeks to talk to them?

I’m puzzled at why Evo is burning a bridge on this considering that the product is a runaway hit. Their inability to define why proves to me that they never tried to understand their customer or market.

This actually makes me mad because I think experiences like this are really bad for the profession, particularly at a point in time where design is truly at the crossroads.

Thoughts? Anyone from Evo or Graco care to shed some light on this?

maybe they’re practicing drama for a new design theater.

Actually sounds pretty typical. Clients say they want innovation because that’s the new buzzword, but they don’t want to change anything. It’s like marketing wants innovation in terms of ground-breaking sales or profits and that’s all it means. IDers want innovative form+function+manufacturing processes. Every sides view is different. I just think the term is thrown around too loosely. Everybody wants an innovative new product but it has to do the exact same thing the same way with the same manufacturing and no risk at all? Seems like in the end sometimes all you really can do is slap new innovative graphics and colors on things and call it a day.

What surprises me the most is that their director of business development put out this article. If I was a potential client reading it, I’d be scared they would potentially bad-mouth me publicly if I didn’t do things their way and could make me reluctant to utilize them for a job. I guess it could also have the benefit of weeding out the wrong type of clients that they don’t want. Pretty ballsy move championing the ID cause in this particular manner, hopefully it won’t hurt them.

Agree. I don’t see this as unique. And I’m not convinced that design is at the same crossroads that’s been trumpeted in the MSM. Still lots of hype imo.

This story scares the heck out of me. I put all the blame on Evo management, where were they when all this (scope changes, running over budget, re-direction, invoice deductions) happened? How can a consultancy run this way expect to stay in business over the long term? Evo, from what I’ve heard, is a super nice firm run by super nice people. Unfortunately this story may be illustrating what happens when being nice is more important than being a business. I also am concerned about the precident this sets for Graco’s future design partners. Since Evo did not ask to be paid a fair amount for their work, will Graco now demand to pay only fraction of the value they receive from design studios.
Thumbs up to them for being honest about what sometimes really happens with clients.
Thumbs down for facilitating it in the first place.

Frankly CG, I’m surprised by your comments.

I used to work for Evo, so take mine for what they are, biased in the extreme, but I thought the article was pretty informative in that it didn’t pull any punches or try to fluff up what really happened. Instead of rewriting history, they put out a cautionary tale.

As designers we don’t always have control of the process. Any designer that thinks he or she does is either EXTREMELY lucky, or living on the banks of De-nile river. Some times the process gets away from us. Sometimes clients mislead us. Sometimes clients mislead themselves, sometimes clients go incommunicado for a few weeks only to tell you you’ve gone off on a tangent and they won’t pay you for what you just did. It happens. Giving flack to a firm that’s not afraid of taking it seems unfruitful… unless you just need to blow off steam because you just had a client tell you he actually doesn’t want “spicy design” in which case, carry on.

What about the market again? Apparently the market was just fine with no design. It sold. But as designers we are not merely a service to provide the consumer with what they think they want, it is our job to innovate what they never new they needed. My take.

Evo’s management dropped the ball. When the scope of the project at Graco tightened “a bit,” the design brief changed. The project manager for Evo should have changed the design guide with Graco and readjusted the scope of the project for Evo’s designers. At that point if Graco was unhappy, Evo should have said they couldn’t do it. There was plenty of time to do this because Evo was “just diving into the project.” It’s Evo’s fault for letting it get out of control. It may have inherently become a less innovative project, but not necessarily a less creative one. By the way, I don’t believe that by using an existing platform Graco imposed “impossible design constraints.”
Graco may have thrown a wet blanket (no pun intended) over Evo’s idea of the perfect project, but you know what, suck it up. Evo with all of their experience must have known before “diving into the project” what kind of project this was going to be when Graco starts talking about using existing tooling. If Evo was uncomfortable with this, they should have bailed. Where’s Evo’s integrity?
I think Evo missed out on a great story: helped Graco develop a winning product using existing tooling, and more importantly stayed within budget.

I did not write the article but I believe this is the kind of conversation that it was intended to instigate. All of the comments thus far are enjoyable to think about and interesting to me. Many are far more illuminating/ intriguing than the typical design conversations.

As mentioned, the team managed to capture the high-end of the market and produce the best product in the category. This comes straight from their competition. And, this is a feat not to be underestimated given the volume and high quality in this saturated category. So obviously a whole lot went very right and I think all involved are probably proud of what they were able to accomplish. A story focusing on this viewpoint would be a fine read but it is a very common PR story and perhaps less instructional.

My opinion is that the article is more about why a GOOD product isn’t even better. Specifically, given the “super-star” team, why wasn’t more truly new ground broken in the areas of play, value-to-mom, form, details, etc. One could argue that THIS project was just not the time or the place to do some or all of those things. That would be fair. I do not think that choice or discussing it in this forum is an issue of integrity. After all, these issues are ubiquitous.

Additionally, I do not think Evo “lost their shirts” nor did they disregard the customer’s goals. It sounds like the goals were actually met quite nicely. The team may not have presented a compelling enough design vision to inspire an appetite for innovation. Innovation in all its facets is the vehicle for consistantly advancing a brand, this is the ambition of design teams. The responsibility for not creating this appetite may rest with project management. I think it would be fair to conclude that the designers on the project would very much like to have made a more convincing argument.

Is it really “burning a bridge” to say that in the end the team would like to have done better? I think people are smart enough to understand that even with regard to beloved products an analytical team may conclude that they were capable of going even further. I may be wrong. Maybe this is not a topic designers/managers want out there. Maybe it should have been handled differently or in a different forum.

This may be moot given the comments above and the very salient point that this might have been better for business development had it been the more traditional story of successfully navigating constraints to produce a great selling product.

Few things here:

-this article is written by the “BizDev” person @ EVO not the deisgn director so I think there are some finacncial considerations and decisions that were made but that we don’t know about.

-did the design timeline and budgeted time for the deisgners allow for time for the breif or scope to be changed? or would EVO have to requote the project? and are both those questions affordable for the client and the consultancy–meaning would the client allow for a requote if they didn’t agree the breif had changed? Since EVO accepted a fixed fee my guess is that thsi would have eaten up precious time and resources which are two of the three resources a consultancy needs effectively manage to keep solvent.

-if you “just bail” on the project what do you do with your invested billable time? Sorry but you need to collect it; but few clients will pay full price on that time after you dropped them so it ends up a wash–with the consultancy eating the invested time. When you have no overhead thats not a problem. I think its fair to assume that EVO have a fair amount of overhead that must be covered monthly…so walking away is not easy. Integrity is nice if you don’t have to worry about financial solvency.

-despite “bulletproof” design breifs spec’s change; and in a big relationship between businesses such as this one, the outside consultancies who are without directly invested interests are often the last in the loop (unless they are an invested partner–in which case EVO should not be complaining or caring about losing creative anything.) So changes will come pretty quickly and not be pleasantly received. Asking or proposing not to change from the breif is not acceptable and is downright impossible. Asking the client to help by narrowing the foucs or changing the focus is fine, if you are changing it for the right reason. The right reason is not so the IDers can get a better angle on the project or run with it better; its often to “leverage more value” out if the product or get a better angle on the market.

-Consultancies get jerked around a lot by clients both big and small. Unfortunately its managing these relationships effectively and not “Design Integrity” that contributes to a consultancies success. Design is ultimately a business.

It sounds like EVO made some mistakes and didn’t qualify the project on the front end well enough before they took it on and when they did it wasn’t that it was managed poorly, it was that EVO’s expectations of the project’s potential were managed poorly. thankfully it seems that because the product succeeded, something went right.

So I would not question EVO’s integrity I’d question their ability to make a good judgement call before they lept into it, mangaing their expectations (both professionally and financially) while they were in it and having the ability to know the difference between the two.

FWIW that project sounds like 95% of my projects working in a consultancy.

Design must get control of the process or align with it.
Otherwise it needs to take a backseat and quit whining.

unless you just need to blow off steam because you just had a client tell you he actually doesn’t want “spicy design” in which case, carry on.

What about the market again? Apparently the market was just fine with no design. It sold. But as designers we are not merely a service to provide the consumer with what they think they want, it is our job to innovate what they never new they needed. My take.

I want to know WHY it should be spicy. Strategic innovation is a great way to learn. Self-referential design however is just bad practice, except for maybe in regards to styling. I believe that fighting this practice is one of the core values of user-centered design. Ultimately that may be where you and I differ.

I do not think that anyone involved in this process advocated design that should detach from the consumer or brand message. At least not according to the article.

On the previous post I think the word spicy refers to the interaction/play and corresponding aesthetic not being as innovative as Baby Einstein as a brand. In other words does it live up tothe full potential of Baby Einstein? Some seem to think it does, given the circumstances.

i have watched most of the videos and the originals are works of art. When introduced they were perhaps the most innovative thing in the category both in terms of creative innovation and intellectual content. Having had my own baby in the graco entertainer I can say that one place where it does embody the ideals of the team and brands is with the puppet attachment. It is simple but a great representation of the Baby Einstein brand because the character is true the play has depth. The design excels in color, material, and feel. It is a successful element for to be lauded because it brings something unique to the category by creating an element that can facilitate creative interaction between parent and child in a fresh way. And, it does so without overly directing or limiting the play. Not an easy task.

I think that the article is taking a critical eye and looking to discuss a few possible reasons why there are not more things going on at this level on the product. I think that it implies that if there were it would be an even more powerful voice for the brand and a more valuable product for parent and baby.

i agree with cg on the spicy issue.

without getting too detailed on it spicing things up comes from art genere not design, and it works very well given the correct amount of release, but there’re a couple of conditions for it to work:

1- the artist develops this through time just like rembrandt did. he spiced it up on the canvas. his late portraits were not really as great as his mid career, even the early ones but they contained this energy or rather synergy those others lacked.

no way you can ask a painter to do the same in a few months let alone a design consultancy.

2- it’s individualistic because it comes from one mind. it can’t be shared like it’s on a network. only people who know art and have dealt with it seriously, understand this. designers usually shouldn’t be concerned with this approach because it just takes too long to develop and eventually it might confine the designer to a certain forced style which would get in the way of intuitive, or research based design which encompasses a major chunk of current design production.

Sorry, I meant KNEW, not NEW. I’m Italian so I think everything should be spicy, otherwise why bother.

That is the point where we always differ CG you are right. I like to think we have a mutual respect, but I at my core believe that design is more intuitive. One needs to research, make one’s business case, get one’s user insights, and then the real skill is to intuitively extrapolate the possibilities out of that and design a product.

It all comes down to what you think is the right way to go, there are no guarantees, and you never know how the consumer may or may not adopt your product. The Chuck Taylor was the most technologically advanced basketball shoe at the time, who knew it would be adopted by art school kids and indy rockers globally? Who knew kids would use 2-ways to cheat in school? Who knew the internet when designed to aid communication between military researchers would be the fastest way to get porn and UFO (not the poster) information? None of these things is being used for their designed use, yet they are immensely popular!

In the end the consumer decides. They don’t care if communication broke down between a design firm and their clients. I think Aaron’s point is that this was a missed opportunity to do some great design. The client didn’t want it though, and I think no amount of research would have convinced them otherwise. They simply weren’t ready for it, and if Evo gave it to them, they probably wouldn’t know what to do with it anyway.

The article tries to figure out where the process went off the tracks. I think it is a good exercise to examine your failures. As you say design needs to take control. While this sounds ideal, it is seldom the actual case. We need to do the best we can.

Think about it this way, did Chris Bangle change the design philosophy at BMW because consumers told him he should, or because he intuitively thought it was the right thing to do, screw all the nay sayers and temporary drops in sales, this would maintain and even increase the scope of the brand in the long run. Hmmm…

just asking:

In a consultancy’s case just how does Design “get control of the process” when the client is coming to your consultancy for the end result and not the process?

I can understand in a company with an in-house design staff, the ability to control the process is easier to acheive because thats ultimately what you oversee everyday. But in a consultancy where there will be different processes based on the the individual clients end needs, how can there be any one way to"oversee and align to the process?" Moreover, how do you do this when you are overseeing several process for several differing clients at the same time?

Unless the consultancy sells itself on its process and not the end result this will not happen; which I beleive is the point of the article. That for each different client there is a differing process whose end result must be balanced by the individual wants and needs of the market, customer and client with (not against) the wants and needs of the consultancy and designers.

Again, I’m just honestly asking here because this is a question that I had whose answer escaped me and ultimately drove me away from consulting and back into corporate design where (I think) I can control the process. (isn’t “controlling the process” being self referential anyway?–see what I mean…).

if you have a simple answer to this let me know…

As someone who worked in consulting, and now in a position where I hire consultants I can tell you that process is MORE important to me than the end result. Meaning that a good process will almost guarantee a good end result, but not vice-versa. I’m not alone on this, many notable designers simply define design as a process. Plus most consultants are advertising their process!

Now that I’ve visited their site, it looks like EVO is in the minority of those who don’t mention process, and focus their folio on styling and capabilities.

I added “align with” because frequently consultants will be asked to work within their clients process. I like to do a bit of both, offering my standard framework and listening to what the consultant might want to do differently.

This shouldn’t be difficult for consultants if they have good client/project management.

CG is right on the button. When we were interviewing for the ‘shopping for innovation’ article, a design firm’s process, especially if different or particularly effective, was mentioned as one of the key differentiators in the selection process by hiring managers.


bmw knew they had to get out of the boxy format they had adopted since the 60’s and fast because they were witnessing a huge shift toward softer forms by their competitors in europe and US alike. but their main competition is mercedes in germany and most of europe specially for cars like the 7 series which is the flagship line. maybe some think the m series is the flag but it’s not.

bangle took the initiative and the challenge, so was able to transform the brand through a multidimentional process he had some control over. as he admits it wasn’t just his decision to go with this approach. apparently all sorts of input was taken from other divisions in bmw.

it worked because the design process was a research/strategy based process at a hot level while other factors like styling were maintained at the cool level.

Getting away from the esoteric design discussion for a minute…

Two things…

I previously worked for a division of Newell / Rubbermaid and saw first hand their working relationships with outside consultants. The paragraph at the end describing the mystery 3% discount is typical Newell. All vendors need to beware of their AP tricks. Read all of the payment terms with a magnifying glass!!! Also beware of 60 or 90 day terms!

I would love to write a case study like this about a couple of our dumb-ass customers (I’m in a corporate PD job), but I know that would end our realtionship quickly because they would look like buffons. How does EVO plan to ever get another gig from Newell/Rubbermaid after exposing them as bad design & business partners (which they are)? This is a great exercise to share the experience with other designers, but a public forum like this is far reaching and it will eventually make it’s way back to Newell (and their legal department??).

Thanks to EVO for having the stones to share…

first off thanks for the repsonse. I , like you, seriously consider process when I need to hire outside my team becasue it determines how leverage the consultants strengths to mitigate my (in house0 weaknesses. but sometimes I may be only interested ina specifc function they provide…at which point I do not care about how the get to the end result.

Good client/project management allows a consultancy to determine wether their client is interested in process or end result or both and allow them to modify thier process to accomodate them.

But in the case of a ciient who is not interested in the means but only in the ends, hence not in the process but in the end result, how can you sell or promote or recommend something that they are not interested in?

another point:

I dont think its thats improper in the business realtionship to publish and conclude that there were “problems” with the deisign relationship; I know some of my clients and customers have done internal reviews and have allowed them to be used then as references in the same way. But refering to your clients and custiomers, ex or otherwise as “buffoons” or “dumb ass” is a far more damaging reference. Honest criticism is one thing, an outright slagging on is much more offensive.

I’m wary of taking a “lesson” with only one side of the story. I’d really love to hear Graco & Leapfrog’s take.

This might make an interesting roundtable or interview-article with all parties.