Boaty McBoatface and the Struggle with Group Design

If you’ve been out and about on the internet recently, you’ve probably seen this:


Right about now, you might be thinking: Oh, man, I have a big design project coming up that has a lot of people involved. Okay, maybe not the entire internet? But still, a LOT of people! How do I keep my project from becoming a Boaty McBoatface?

Ahoy, Matey. Listen up:

Maintain Focus

Get your group together. Gather up all of the players and discuss amongst yourselves: What is the desired outcome? What does your project need to look like? What does it need to do? You need to decide this before you take any more steps. For example, your group might decide:

  • We need this to be in the company colors
  • We need there to be four columns
  • We need specific functionality

Awesome. Good job, group. Now that you have an idea of what you want? Nutty Betty from Human Resources does NOT get to go off on a “But I really think it should be PURPLE and SPARKLY” tangent. You can redirect her to your project guidelines. “Betty, do you see purple or sparkles on the board? No. This is not what we agreed on.”

Having said that, if your group thinks that, in the future, something purple and glittery might be cool? Don’t be afraid to start notes for your next project. In fact, let the group know that you’re already looking ahead to your next project and will make notes/write down their wacky ideas/ take their way way waaaaaaay outside the box suggestions into consideration when planning that project— and make sure to do it. Something that’s a bad fit for this project might be a GREAT fit for the next one! Just, you know, hold that thought while you do what you need this time around.

Control Your Controllables

Here’s the deal: If you don’t want to have a boat named Boaty McBoatface, you set parameters on what people can suggest OR you control the vote process by putting out the names you DO want and letting people choose from them.

Makes sense, right?

For your project, use the guidelines you already set to control your group’s direction. You’re going to save yourself and your designer a lot of time (and heartburn) if you can tell him or her what you do want AND what you don’t. Let’s look at what you did want:

  • Company colors. Excellent. (Rules out purple. And glitter.)
  • Four Columns. Fabulous. Gives the designer something to work with.
  • Functionality. Sweet. Awesome.

If you can tell your designer some things that you definitely DON’T want (though they may not be included in your guidelines that your group created) that would also help you to control the direction of your project. For example — you don’t want anything done in Comic Sans. (You just don’t. Trust me on this.) Tell your designer. It saves headache and hassle down the road.

While we’re on the “telling your designer” thing …

Establish a Point Person

Your project? It is awesome. It is going to do excellent things for your company. As a result, everyone and her Aunt Fredricka want to be involved.

Which, okay.

If they all have access to your designer?

Not okay.

You need to designate a point person. As in, one person. Maybe it’s you — yay you! Maybe it’s someone else. Who knows? But that one person and ONLY that one person are allowed to be in contact with your design team.

But why, you ask? The answer is simple: you want your design team to DESIGN. You do NOT want their valuable hours spent answering 394,634 emails, most of which are off topic and ask the designer to do things that don’t correspond with your guidelines.

One person works with the design team. One person emails, calls, etc. If you are worried about upcoming vacations, etc, you can designate a backup. Let the group know that the design team will only respond to messages from the point person. It’s completely up to you and your group if a) you want the point person to make decisions or b) bring things back to the group for a group decision, but you need to make sure that one person is communicating that to your designer.

And Finally...

The truth is that you can’t anticipate every single thing. Just ask Boaty McBoatface. But with the right planning? You can steer your boat — er, project — in the direction of success.


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