Design by committee is a pejorative term for a project that has many designers involved but no unifying plan or vision.

Usage of the term

Remote controls with as many as 78 buttons have been cited as an example of a product designed by committee.

The term is used to refer to suboptimal traits that such a process may produce as a result of having to compromise between the requirements and viewpoints of the participants, particularly in the presence of poor leadership or poor technical knowledge, such as needless complexity, internal inconsistency, logical flaws, banality, and the lack of a unifying vision. This design process by consensus is in contrast to autocratic design, or design by dictator, where the project leader decides on the design. The difference is that in an autocratic style, members of the organizations are not included and the final outcome is the responsibility of the leader. The phrase, "a camel is a horse designed by committee" is often used to describe design by committee.[1]

The term is especially common in technical parlance; and stresses the need for technical quality over political feasibility. The proverb "too many cooks spoil the broth" expresses the same idea. The term is also common in other fields of design such as graphic design, architecture or industrial design. In automotive design, this process is often blamed for unpopular or poorly designed cars.[2]


The poor reception and commercial failure of the Pontiac Aztek was attributed to design by committee.

The term is commonly used in information and communications technology, especially when referring to the design of languages and technical standards, as demonstrated by USENET archives.[3]

An example of a technical decision said to be a typical result of design by committee is the Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) cell size of 53 bytes. The choice of 53 bytes was political rather than technical.[4] When the CCITT was standardizing ATM, parties from the United States wanted a 64-byte payload. Parties from Europe wanted 32-byte payloads. Most of the European parties eventually came around to the arguments made by the Americans, but France and a few others held out for a shorter cell length of 32 bytes. A 53-byte size (48 bytes plus 5 byte header) was the compromise chosen.

An example described as naming by committee was a school near Liverpool formed by the merger of several other schools: it was officially named the "Knowsley Park Centre for Learning, Serving Prescot, Whiston and the Wider Community" in 2009, listing as a compromise all the schools and communities merged into it.[5] The name lasted seven years before its headmistress, who called the name "so embarrassing",[6] cut it to simply "The Prescot School".[7][8]

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has been described as designed by committee, due to being overscheduled, over budget, and underperforming expectations.[9] It was originally conceived to serve the widely varying needs of multiple branches of the military all in one simple platform. This multi-interest approach has been pinpointed as largely responsible for its bloat, along with stacking too many new and unproven features into its design. Uneven progress across areas and unexpected challenges meant that major technical fixes and redesigns could halt the program's movement, requiring planes to be remedied even as they were being delivered.

Apple Inc. reportedly uses remote controls designed by other companies with as many as 78 buttons as an example of design by committee when training employees.[10]

The Washington Post described the Pontiac Aztek as a vehicle designed by committee, which was largely designed based on feedback from extensive focus group testing, and was released to negative reviews and poor sales.[11]

See also


  1. ^ Kolbert, Elizabeth (1998-01-26). "Metro Matters; The State Of the State Of (Whatever)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-04-22.
  2. ^ Biggest Automaker Needs Big Changes
  3. ^ "Occurrences of "Design by committee" in Google Groups USENET archives, 1981–1992". Archived from the original on 2022-12-23. Retrieved 2013-01-09.
  4. ^ D. Stevenson, "Electropolitical Correctness and High-Speed Networking, or, Why ATM is like a Nose", Proceedings of TriCom '93, April 1993.
  5. ^ Turner, Ben (28 May 2009). "Knowsley school to have one of "longest names in the world"". Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 2 December 2017.
  6. ^ Boffey, Daniel (13 November 2016). "Can a new drive change the fortunes of schools in one of Britain's most deprived areas?". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 December 2017.
  7. ^ Cobain, Ian (29 January 2017). "The making of an education catastrophe – schools in Knowsley were dubbed 'wacky warehouses'". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 December 2017.
  8. ^ "Lessons to be learned from Knowsley's schools (letters)". The Guardian. 6 February 2017. Retrieved 2 December 2017.
  9. ^ The F-35 may be unsalvagable
  10. ^ Chen, Brian X. (2015-05-04). "Apple TV Remote Expected to Add Touch Pad in Redesign". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-04-22.
  11. ^ Weisman, Jonathan (2005-06-11). "Biggest Automaker Needs Big Changes". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2023-04-22.