Subjective Group Decision Making and Carpeting

Pink Comic Sans. A perfect indication of how this process has gone so far.I live in a condo building with four floors and 40 units. The time has come to replace the carpet in the hallways and all common areas. It is a pretty big job that will cost $20,000 or so and obviously affects everybody’s living experience. It is slightly complicated by the fact that the walls are a light mauve and the current carpet is a dark mauve and painting the walls is not part of this project.

Certain things have happened already in the selection/replacement process which, in my opinion, have been an unmitigated disaster. So without revealing the details of the situation, I’d like to ask this question:

If you were either the president or a member of a condo board, what exact process would you undertake to select new carpeting? It can be one sentence or one paragraph. Dictatorial or democratic. Or anything in between…

47 comments on “Subjective Group Decision Making and Carpeting”. Leave your own?
  1. Geezus. All I know is that if the process were more complicated than a single meeting lasting, at most, an hour(at most), I’d probably find my urge toward homicide rising.

  2. Tim says:

    Hire a decorator to figure out what works best. If you start polling people you get people whose opinion you took who are happy but you orphan a (most likely) larger number of people who may take it as an indictment of their style choices.

    Don’t be dictatorial because that could haunt you as well.

    Go third party, make sure at least you agree with it, and go with it.

  3. Chad Edge says:

    Present residents with a 1-page, 3-option color scheme (photoshop a floor-wall photo w/ the color change). Checkbox for each (big, non-florida style voting boxes).

    Anyone not returning their slip in time doesn’t get their vote counted.

    The end.

  4. Nathan Logan says:

    As a board (or president), pick several we would be comfortable installing (taking cost, quality, color, etc. into account). Then present those choices to all condo owners to vote upon democratic-style.

    Everybody’s happy.

  5. Dave Metcalf says:

    I would call a bunch of carpet places and have them come out to give a quote. Then try to get a good balance of quality carpet and low price. Not to mention using the size of the job as leverage to get a discount.
    But the fact that you are asking is a bad omen.

    Hopefully the person responsible for Comic Sans had no input in the decision…

  6. Yeah, I’m going to go with the Third Party options too, but I agree with Nathan give options. I agree that dictatorial will come back to bite you, but if you have a limited democratic process, one where you still have quality control somewhat, you’re bound to have better results.

    Plus, I’m guessing that most people won’t care all that much in the end, and would welcome a succinct choice.

    Good luck!

  7. Mike D. says:

    Good stuff so far. Just so we’re clear, I’m most interested in exact procedures you’d go through to resolve the problem of the subjective selection of carpet. Chad Edge’s response is a good example.

  8. Hire an interior decorator……we all know the outcome of design decisions made by non-designers.

  9. David Robarts says:

    I vote for the 3 choices mentod – perhaps having a profesional provide the choices.

  10. Mark says:

    This is definitely not the place to be democratic. Hire an interior decorator, have them make suggestions/decisions, then work with contractors to get the best price.

    Residents shouldn’t have any say in this. Involving them will just create hurt-feelings and take way too much time. If the decision is just made and implemented, the residents will notice it/talk about it for a day or so.

    If they are involved in the process, they will forever talk about how ‘no one listened to me…”

  11. Rich says:

    Take Chad’s above and put the samples (REAL SAMPLES 12″ x 12″) of the top three on presentation boards in the lobby.

    Maybe paint the foamcore to match the walls.

  12. brian warren says:

    1. Schedule a meeting where interested parties can come to give input. At that meeting tell of the plan to get a few respected carpet installers to give quotes. Mention a follow up meeting where people who have any bent toward design or interior decorating can discuss colors and carpet types.
    2. Meet with carpet installers to get quotes and sample books or whatever they give you there.
    3. Have aforementioned follow-up meeting. If only 40 units, I’d imagine less than 10 people would show. There you can discuss prices and whatnot. Among the 10 of you pick out 3 or 4 styles.
    4. Design and distribute vote cards that Chad Edge suggested. Include info about deadline.
    5. Choose most voted style and get it installed, distribute a follow up flyer with info about votes, which one was chosen, install date, info about paying the bill, etc.

    WIth doing two meetings, while it takes longer, people have no excuse for getting upset, because it was a) democratic, and b) they could get their say in the subject if they wanted to. The only issue that could crop up is if someone was in the minority about their tastes, and they get all bent out of shape about their precious designs not being chosen and you get bad karma from neighbors about it. Then again, they’d probably get bent out of shape anyway.

  13. Naomi D. says:

    To save some money, you could have the building’s residents elect a design dictator. Candidates for dictator must be nominated, and could demonstrate their taste/prowess by showing their own condo as an example.

  14. Tim says:

    I would put up a three carpet samples that my designer chose would be good choices. Underneath each would be a box (locked) where tenant deposit their rent checks, so people literally “vote with their money”.

  15. Dennis says:

    I think I agree with Chad…..You pay fees, right? Then you should be part of the process.

  16. nat says:

    If I were president, I would make the decision on my own based on gut feeling and prayer, and insinuate that anyone who doesn’t agree obviously hates freedom and is putting the condo at risk by providing comfort to competing carpet manufacturers.

    If I were on the board, I would rubber-stamp the president’s decision, and then second-guess his choice incessantly after the new carpet has been installed.

  17. Alexis says:

    I like the idea of having the 3 swatches of rug and then having everyone vote on it. More than likely the owner or landlord of said building probably knows what everyones job is from the applications given before moving in. If I were him/her I would quietly give those tenants who had put keywords such as design, artist, etc as their occupation a call first to decide from a larger group of rug swatches to get to these final 3. Some may say that dog walkers, electricians, and ninjas have a sense of style as well and should be included in that first round but to keep things simple and quick the next time there needs to be a decision made on something like what elevator brand to install the designers can be left out of that first round.

  18. Emma says:

    I’d say, it’s a carpet, make it whatever colour you like just as long as I don’t have to clean the thing!

  19. Keith says:

    Come on man, you know nothing gets done right or in any kind of timely fashion by committee. If I were the president I’d either make the decision on my own (better to beg forgiveness, etc.) or delegate it to someone who cared more and then make sure they felt empowered to make the choice on their own.

    I’d rather get it done quickly and deal with people questioning my choice then let it drag on fovever, waste a bunch of time and then have people question the choice anyway…

  20. Tony says:

    Me? I’d get some quotes, and hold one meeting with samples (selected by the carpet companies to match the walls, of course) and bids.

    I’m curious, are things like this not addressed in the charter (or whatever) of the condo assoc.?

  21. Steve says:

    Here are my working principles:

    * Be clear about who gets a voice, a vote, or a veto.

    * All the stakeholders get a voice. Lots of voice. Ask for feedback on how the decision is going to be made. And get feedback on the alternatives samples.

    * A hired consultants gets the one vote.

    * The board and president get the one veto.

  22. eric says:

    I hope this doesn’t complicate things, but have you considered whether the carpet to be installed is going to be bad for you?

    Lots of carpets are actually quite bad for your health, releasing toxins into your breathing space weeks after they’re installed. Worse yet, the manufacturing process that went into them were, at best, not very sustainable.

    That said, you might want to consider carpets friendly to all. Some of them look just great, and are even made from recycled materials and can be recycled after use for money back.

    I realize you’re looking for tips on the process, and not the actual carpet, but then again, if you haven’t considered GREAT carpet, I see potential for it being compelling enough to help ya’ll 1) lessen disagreements, and 2) decide.

    Sustainable carpets can be more expensive (though not necessarily!), but I believe health and happiness are worth money.

    Good luck.

  23. Christian says:

    Avoid all voting activities, let pros in on the “design” work. My experience is that neighbours suffers from lack of taste. We had a voting on painting the hallways in my building about a year ago, with four alternatives (God knows who came up with the alternatives, btw…). Sure enough, today the hallway walls are white in a very warm and cheery, hospital-like combination with light grey. Neat. Very neat.

  24. Bradley says:

    Obviously this gets muddier because they are condos and not apartments.

    Rebecca’s (gf’s) apartments recently replaced all of the carpet with no notice, no vote. They just did it, and it’s better than what was there before. The response has mostly been, “Oh, we have new carpet. That’s nice.” ‘Nuff said.

    If I was paying maintenance fees on a property I owned, however, I might want more of a “say” in the process, for sure. But only enough say as to make sure it’s not going to be puke green. I’m not sure anybody needs more say than that, unless of course there is 1) already a bad track-record with the project, and 2) the office folk naturally have bad tastes (read: pink comic sans).

    There is a fine line here. In this case, I’d go for a limited democracy.

    If this was a neighborhood and the subject was “landscaping and community beautification”, you would just have to get on some sort of committee if you wanted to have a decent influence, and the committee would likely take suggestions from outsiders, too. The group would be concerned with this and all other related projects at once. This might even be just a “garden club” for smaller communities.

    Getting involved would take just about zero effort, all things considered. Most communities create this atmosphere on purpose.

    Insert the corporate element into the situation (condos), and this is where the problem arises. Ultimately, it will be the decision of the management company, regardless of how idiotic they may be.

    Sorry Mike, I know you said one line…

    … I’m lonely.

  25. Ross Hill says:

    If I were in charge? How bad is the old carpet.. it can go another few years :p

  26. Ed T says:

    Solicit volunteers–three or four max–to be the interior design committee. Choose the ones with some demonstrated aesthetic sensibilities. Provide an input channel for residents–web survey?–to give initial comments. Have the committee select three samples to display in a common area for residents to vote on–preferably placed or even installed adjacent to one of the mauve walls for context.

    Democracy is messy, so I wouldn’t expect to love the result.

  27. Chad Edge says:

    I’m adding “quality recommendation of carpet selection democratic process” to my resume.

    As far as a veto, I would try and simplify the process as much as possible. In my opinion, the final choice should have overwrite power by the board themselves (in case the residents choose a crap color, or try to make a fancy condo look like Boca Raton). However, on the residents side, make the process as simple – and one direction – as possible (three checkboxes – one vote per household).

    I do like the idea of the carpet samples on foamcore. That might be more work than necessary – try and get away with as little as possible (that’s not ‘lazy-talk,’ just trying to keep from introducing new issues and feedback such as “I like the color, but the shag is too deep” or “I know a guy that can sell us that same carpet cheaper.”). From Mike’s notes, it seems that they really just want an answer to what color/style, and not get more feedback than necessary.

  28. Jim says:

    My process would be:

    1. Board picks three samples that they think would work.

    2. Post the samples in the lobby and have people vote for the one they like.

    3. Install the carpet.

    I think there is some dirt in the carpet!

  29. Reed Morse says:

    Check out Flor. Then you could even mix it up every now and then.

  30. Waylan says:

    Take the three pre-approved samples which everyone votes on and suppose you get the following (unlikely) outcome.

    Building A: 
          Option 1: 80%
          Option 2: 10%
          Option 3: 10%
    Building B: 
          Option 1: 5%
          Option 2: 5%
          Option 3: 90%
    Building C: 
          Option 1: 10%
          Option 2: 80%
          Option 3: 10%

    The overall winner is Option 2, but it is clear that Building A should get Option 1, Building B should get Option 3 and Building C should get Option 2. So you don’t publish the results and go with Option 2, but the tenants in Building A are pretty tight and talk it over in the hall. Now they want to know why the option getting an 80% vote in their building was not used…

    I say avoid voting and get a pro who narrows it down to a few choices for the president/board to choose from.

  31. 1) Hire a licensed interior designer.*
    2) Give the designer some simple parameters, then get out of the way.
    3) Marvel at how well the project went.

    * Note that I said “licensed interior designer”, and not “interior decorator”. A licensed interior designer come with a verified level of education and competence. However, any knucklehead can hang a shingle and call himself an “interior decorator”.

  32. Doug says:

    Think if I were either the president or a member of a condo board having a longer term vested interest I would tile high traffic areas. More initial outlay perhaps in the long run cheaper?.

  33. Hilde says:

    I agree with Doug! Skip the carpet, go for stone tiles!

    I really don’t see why people in Britain, the States and a few other places seem to believe that evey floor needs a carpet!?! Do you know how much dust, dirt and germs you’ll find in those carpets? It gets extra fascinating as you seem to be using the same shoes outdoors and indoors. Beats me… ;p

    And yeah, go for the three options method!

  34. Mike

    You gotta change the decor at the same time. Or when you change the decor in a year or so, it will have to match the carpet that had to match the existing decor.

    Agree with getting an interior designer to advise. Getting so many people to agree is going to be fun!

  35. Mark Centz. says:

    Why do I get the feeling this isn’t about condos or carpets at all, but a science experiment in how people look to solve problems? Takes me back to a social studies class in high school…

  36. karl says:

    Rip up the current carpet and don’t do anything else.

    Have the building president, or super, or whatever you have record the order that people approached them with the “hey what’s going on with the halls” issue.

    In the ensuing vote, people get a number of votes inversely proportional to the order they asked about the hallway in (which presumably reflects the general interest in having a good looking hallway and the attention to detail exhibited by residents)

  37. Yummy says:

    Regardless of the process, you should definitely pick a carpet color that clashes horrificly with the painted walls.

    If your crafty enough, you can get a carpet that will look awesome with the new paint color you secretly desire.

    Then the powers that be will have to repaint to overcome the nausea of walking down the hallways.

  38. Bradley says:

    Adding to my last comment, I think too that this is a bit more intense because it involves the places we live and breathe.

    Now, many writers/journalists/bloggers/what-have-you are on Newsvine.

    What happens when Mike wants to change up the shop?

    Some of these people have invested quite a bit of time into their presence on the site. But I still don’t think that anyone would gripe about not having a say about some layout or color changes under the hood. At very best, they would give some feedback after the deal was done.

    Which brings me to another observation: Layout and colors online are virtual. That carpet is going to be there indefinitely.

    So whether it’s the physical nature of this project, the closeness of it to our daily lives, or the permanence of the ultimate decision… for some reason, I have to conclude that carpet is more stressful than web design.

  39. Amazing Rando says:

    Give 3-5 options and allow the residents to vote for EACH of the selections that they like. Some people will vote for 1, others will vote for all of them, but what you will end up with is a selection that the most people agree on.

    -Amazing Rando

  40. akatsuki says:

    Hire an interior designer and have them pick out three. Don’t worry about the walls, per se, they will have to be painted eventually too.

    Then have at-large voting where everybody unit gets 5 votes to spend however they want. They could put all 5 in one or spread them in order of preference. This should get you a truer sense of what people want as you can see how they rank them.

  41. Mark says:

    $20,000.00 really isn’t that much of an investment for an improvement to a complex of condos.

    Even at $500 per unit the cost was initially reasonable. But, if you consider time is money, than this whole (apparently messed up) process of voting and discussing and arguing is most likely costing the residents much more than that intial price.

    Therefore, I would have never put this up to vote or dicussion by committee. It’s carpet for gosh sake. As long as it’s not hideous, it’s not really impacting the residents in a life changing manner. Pick it, install it and move on.

  42. Court says:

    Back in my odd-job days, I was an apartment and rental house manager, and overthe years I had done that, using neutral-colored flooring was the best choice. There’s no way to satisfy everyone, but by installing a neutral color, the walls, plants, furniture, outfits of people walking on it never clash.

  43. Garth says:

    Since most of the suggestions here ultimately call for the condo owners at large to choose an option from a panel of prescreened candidates, I’d like to focus in a bit more on the final voting process.

    Voting is far more complicated than it seems. In fact, there is a mathematical theorem which states that no voting system can satisfy all the common-sense goals one might wish for at once. Since there’s no perfect voting system, we’re left with multiple options, each of which are better or worse in specific situations.

    The default “everyone vote for the option they like” method that many comments have suggested is particularly awful for making this kind of design choice. It’s easily derailed when two popular options are similar (because it forces votes to be split, overlooking the larger message that many people prefer options of that type). It also generally fails to reveal good compromise candidates that are acceptable to everyone but are few voters’ first choices. Many more problems with this system are described here.

    The best system in this situation is probably the Schulze method, which requires every voter to rank the options in order of preference. Unfortunately, although the voting is easily described, the vote counting algorithm is practically impossible to explain to an unsophisticated audience, so it may or may not be a reasonable choice for your condo association. (“Who cares about all this math stuff, let’s just vote!”).

    A good compromise might be approval voting, aka “vote for all the options you find acceptable”. However, this method runs a greater risk than Schulze of sticking you with generic beige carpet since it can have something of a “lowest common denominator” effect.

    There has been something of a fad for instant runoff voting recently, but IMHO, this method is generally inferior to Schulze and far more likely to yield oddball results. Its only advantage is that the vote-tallying procedure is relatively explainable.

  44. Isaac Lin says:

    I second the proposal for approval voting as a simpler alternative to the various ranked voting methods. Looking at it from the opposite point of view, it is equivalent to giving everyone the right to vote against (by omission) for options they can’t stand.

    Though it’s a nice idea in theory to try to delegate the decision to a group of delegates, to be honest I can’t think of a good way to choose the delegates other than using the existing condo board, which of course is prone to all of problems caused by condo politics.

  45. Benjy says:

    I believe that this should fall under the board’s jurisdiction. Aren’t condo boards elected by the residents to take on the responsibility for deciding issues related to the building? Aren’t they the ones who have chosen to take on that extra responsibility to learn about the issue at hand and make a decision that is in the best interest of the residents?

    Now the board could handle this number of ways. They could make a choice among themselves. Or they could appoint a decor task force, hire an outside design consultant, etc. They might want to bring the issue up in a board meeting early on to see if residents have any initial input, comments, recommendations for vendors, etc.

    The decision should then be made by those who have taken the additional time to seek out the best solution. It’s hard to get people who may not be as visually aware, design conscious, etc. to make a well informed decision from seeing a 1 sq. ft. sample on a board in the lobby. They may not be able to picture what it’d look like in a hallway. It’s sort of like the Pepsi Challenge fallacy in “Blink.”

    At least this is how my building’s condo association operates. On the other hand, it has 500 units, so trying to get any decision would be that much more difficult…

  46. torres#3 says:

    Buy the same carpet. same color, same brand, just newer

  47. Kevin Cannon says:

    This is a fascinating topic. I’ve always been interested in similar topics in online communities and colaborative working groups.

    Once you open up the process of choice and ask people’s opinions they invest more time and effort into it. That can be good, because you can get great feedback and generate ideas, but the downside is that if you don’t pick what they wanted they’ll feel more bitter about not being involved. Just doing it and picking something nice & simple may be the best way to go.

    I’m sure there’s some management theory about this kind of situation that outlines the pitfalls of the various approaches. I’d love to find out more about it.

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