Death by committee, or RIP Ina G

I come from a family of food lovers and great cooks, but I didn’t really learn everything I know about cooking from my family. As a child, the adults in my life always cooked. As recently as last weekend, my father traveled 3 hours to my house to attend son’s Cinco de Mayo-themed birthday party with a tray of eggplant rollatini and a repurposed ricotta cheese container full of tomato sauce in tow, “to save for another dinner.” My grandmother – an excellent cook – introduced me to cooking shows like The Frugal Gourmet and Yan Can Cook on PBS. I loved watching those shows with her. When I moved into my own apartment and had cable television for the first time in my life, I spent a lot of time watching the Food Network.  Rachel Ray, Giada deLaurentiis and Ina Garten were among my faves.  “Rach” was one of the girls, and Giada was so pretty and wore the cutest clothes, so 20-something me felt a connection to each of them, like they were people I knew, or could be friends with. 

But, Ina was different –  I could not really relate to her. She was wealthy, and spent most of her time at her gorgeous home in the Hamptons, waiting for Fridays when her husband Jeffrey would arrive and she’d make him his favorite dish: Lemon Chicken.  As a young woman living in New York City, this sounded like an absolute nightmare to me:

Why would you want to live ALL THE WAY out on the end of Long Island? 

Why would the highlight of your week be making dinner for your husband?  

And –  the epitome of snobbery –  as she cooked, she said to make sure you used “the good olive oil” or “good vanilla”. In other words, not that peasant crap you folks at home are using.  

But, I loved to watch her. She’d have a hodgepodge group of friends over to her home, arrange some flowers from her garden and they’d eat the best meals one could imagine, often paired with a great cocktail. She took pleasure in her food in the same way my grandmother did. Other than that, I didn’t know people like Ina. While I watched Rachel and Giada as if they were my friends, my viewing of Ina’s show was more an anthropological study of a civilization I could not relate to.

Then, one day, Food Network aired a biography of Ina Garten that told her backstory and how she and Jeffrey came to be a couple, and my whole point of view changed.  It turns out Ina had worked for the White House and her husband Jeffrey had served in the military, and Ina is from Brooklyn, NY. This hit a sweet spot for me, being from Brooklyn myself, and also the wife of a veteran and the daughter of a long-time Department of Defense employee. Among many other impressive credits, Ina opened a shop in the Hamptons before it was The Hamptons and worked her tail off for many years before her success on television. It turns out these Gartens were regular folk after all.  I fell in love with them and have been a fan ever since.  I even spotted her once on 5th Ave and 16th Street in Manhattan and my heart did a little flutter. (Like a true New Yorker, I said nothing, but immediately ran back to work and told everyone I knew that I had seen her.)

So, when I saw this graphic come up on my social media feed, I was crushed. 

photo of Ina Garten holding flowers with the words "Ina Garten Be Ready When the Luck Happens"


This image has all of the makings of every “In Memoriam” graphic ever posted online or put up on the screen at the Oscars. 

I didn’t even read the text. All I saw was a soft, smiling image, flowers, her name in large type set to the side, the shadow added to the left side of the graphic…I thought “Oh no! Ina died!?!”  

I was convinced the italic type beneath her name listed her birth and death dates.  It turns out, that’s just the title of her new book.


How to improve this design using smart strategy:

Having worked on an in-house design team for 20 years, I know exactly why this graphic looks the way it does. It’s lovely, but it’s not really communicating the right feeling. I’d bet I’m not the only person who thought this was an “In Memoriam” post.  Is there a designer to blame for this? No – Absolutely not!  There were likely at least 3 rounds of edits made to this graphic, with no fewer than 10 people weighing in on what this looks like. Everyone each had their say, and got a little bit of their input incorporated into the design. And, through this torturous process, they collectively killed Ina Garten.  

A simple way to improve this graphic would be to show the book itself. No one knows what “Be Ready When the Luck Happens” means. (FYI – It’s the title of her new book.) Another option would be to change the headline to “Meet Ina Garten” because, ironically, this banner was an ad for a live event!  I’d bet if I read the full post more closely, I would have seen more information explaining this. But, that’s not how people consume social media.  The image speaks first, and sometimes that’s the only thing that speaks. Will this lead to a disastrous book tour and the ultimate end of Ina’s career as an author?  Or course not.  But, this is evidence that a large design, marketing and PR team doesn’t necessarily create the best product.  Dare I say there were “too many cooks” in this kitchen?

What does this mean for you? When working with a designer, talk about the goals you want to achieve with the design they create, as opposed to what your favorite color is, or whether or not you like flowers.  Think about your strategy and the purpose of your work together. And, listen to your designer when they share their logic or reasoning for their design.  And, don’t ask for your friends and family to weigh in.  You and your designer can determine if a design is successful.

You’ll have a much more positive experience and you’ll all come out of it with a much better result.

And, everyone stays alive.  😉