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Horses, Camels, and Committees. Not all things are created equal.

Posted October 17, 2011

“A camel is a horse designed by committee” is a terrible metaphor. Every time I hear it, I feel like the point of the metaphor is lost.

A committee is a cul-de-sac into which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled.

Let me explain.

A camel is a animal perfectly adapted and finely tuned for its environment and purpose: living in the Sahara Desert in extreme heat with little to no water for extended periods of time. It is a marvel of evolution. When the needs of the “user” arose in the Sahara, a camel was the exact right product for the job. So it probably wasn’t committee got it right; it a great UX team who took the time to research and develop a solution for the problem.

A horse would die in the Sahara. No “committee” is going to build a camel when they try to build a horse. The metaphor is flawed. You aren’t going to “stumble” into building a 4 legged creature who is impervious to heat and dehydration, with built in water stores and massive feet built to not sink into sand.

A horse would be designed for a entirely different purpose. It doesn’t need to have the adaptations that a camel does, because horses do not live in the Sahara. Horses are perfectly adapted for their own environments.

If you want to build a horse by a committee, you don’t end up with a horse. You end up with an abomination of biology and science, something that probably never made it out of the lab. Things designed by committee are rarely happy-accidents, they are usually unusable in any situation.

If you want a camel, design a camel. If you want a horse, design a horse. But don’t try to peddle your committee design as a “the right thing for the wrong situation” coincidence. If you have a functional creature, you probably but a lot of time and care into it, but maybe it was geared for a specific environment that doesn’t fit your goals exactly. If you have something truly built by committee, you don’t end up with a perfect horse or camel, you end up with this:

 

I love all things experience design. I work as a Principal Service Experience Designer at Intuit in Mountain View, CA.

5 Responses

  1. Camelfan
    Camelfan December 19, 2012 at 1:05 pm |

    You’ve got the metaphor backwards. It’s “A camel looks like a horse designed by committee.” And the point is aesthetic, not functional. Horses look sleek, camels ungainly–like a bunch of conflicting ideas forced into the same framework. There’s nothing more to it than that.

  2. CdnChris
    CdnChris September 4, 2013 at 10:32 pm |

    “A horse with a baby carriage for a rear, two heads, one wheel, three rockets with a tailfin and a fox tail is a horse designed by committee” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

  3. Erik Flowers
    Erik Flowers September 4, 2013 at 10:35 pm |

    This might be my favorite comment on this website. And the front wheel is a Segway.

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