A Designers Nightmare – How to smoothly handle sign-offs & revisions

Being a designer doesnʼt mean “stare at a computer”. It means networking & connecting, answering e-mails to people as well. Every designer throughout their professional career has had to deal with a multitude of different clients. Some of them are excellent to work and communicate with, others are often harder to communicate with and sometimes it takes them a while to approve our work. What is the best way to handle it?

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When starting to work with a client itʼs often hard to figure out what type of client they will turn out to be. They respond promptly, are engaged in the project and are excited to see the beginning layout. However, sometimes they take a turn for the worse at this point. The client completely changes all their ideas, refuses to come to any sort of agreement and insists on his or her own solutions. There isnʼt a golden method for avoiding these kinds of situations. However, there are some ways of reducing the risk and appeasing the clients requests.


In order to keep the approval process as seamless as possible you should start communicating and cooperating from the beginning. The key to keeping everything streamlined is preparing a brief for the project that offers good insight into your clientʼs expectations and preferences.
A project brief doesnʼt have to be a thorough document that has taken you days to prepare. Usually a few questions by email will suffice. Your clients will already have some general preferences regarding layout and some general functionality. Failing to determine them might end up with rejection of your concept.

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Expectations & Things to ask

One of the first things you should ask you client for is: “Are there any examples of current websites that meet your design or implementation standards?”

If the client presents you with 4 examples of sites with a dark background and baroque embellishments then showing a minimalistic layout with a white background might turn out to be pointless.
You shouldnʼt have to ask for examples specific for the project that youʼre currently working on. If itʼs a restaurant be careful about getting other restaurant examples because the client might hang on tightly to that layout and demand to receive something thatʼs nearly a copy of the example. Thatʼs plagiarism and thatʼs not good for anyone. So, be careful on what examples you share and receive.
However, knowing your clients general preferences regarding webpages while the project is still in the starting phases may save you a lot of time later.

Another option is asking “Are there any examples of current websites that DO NOT meet your design and implementation standards?”

This is an analogous situation. This way youʼll be able to filter off styles that your client doesnʼt like. It all relates back to their expectations and making sure you have the most information possible.

What layout style is preferred for this project?

Before you start working ask your client what style does he/she prefer. It would be best to present him/her with a couple of possible solutions: light, lucid, classic, flamboyant, modern, dark, ornate, etc.

Do you have any photos or elements that have to be included on your site?

Do you know the feeling when youʼre in the middle of designing a layout and… Your client sends you an e-mail which says, that you absolutely have to include a low-res photo he or she took with their daughter’s camera?
The best way to avoid surprises is to identify elements that – according to your client – have to be included on the site. If their presented solutions are bad then, you could possible squash that in the project brief stage and save a lot of back and forth later on.

What are the preferred colors? Do you have a style-guide or graphic standards manual?

Check what colors your client likes and expects in the project. Itʼs a good opportunity to get rid of “cutting edge” combinations that your client might present to you. Itʼs also a good time to check if they have brand guidelines that you will have to follow. They could change the styling and layout of your site dramatically.

What colors should I avoid?

Preferred colors are often subjective feelings. Your client wonʼt always be driven by the project’s target group. It might turn out that your client is “allergic” to red and you have just presented him or her with a layout in which red is the central color. However, depending on how big the clients business is other factors may weigh into color decisions. Certain colors have connotations that could be bad for business.

Who are the users of the site and what purpose it used for?

A good brief canʼt pass over the target group and aims of the site. This wonʼt give you a direct sight into the clientʼs preferences but you will know the projects target user base. A fairly common factor that determines the entire layout is the purpose of the site and itʼs call to actions.

Being clear about revisions & deliverables

Designing is a creative process, which makes it hard to predict everything ahead of time. However, itʼs worth making these two things very clear in the beginning:

  1. How many comps or layouts will the client get for the price you have agreed upon.
  2. How many revisions will be able for your client for the price that you have agreed upon.

When you do this your client will be more attentive and precise when reporting revisions. This way you will avoid the meaningless back and forth.

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Describing how the client should report revisions

This isnʼt something that needs to be addressed from the very first e-mail but is something that is worth mentioning. There are clients who accept the first round of a design or make very little tweaks.
When it comes to revisions: ask your client to write down all of their remarks and send them by email. Itʼs best to ask your client to send all the revisions they have at one time. It will make communication and implementation much easier. Plus, if they send them by email, you can always refer back to them as a visual checklist.

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A bit of Psychology

If youʼre stuck with a client who is very critical about your proposal it would be best to hold a “face to face” meeting or at least talk over the phone. People usually tend to limit needless criticism when having a direct talk.

Draw Conclusions

Is a client always right? No, not always. Remember: The client is always right, in the end when he/she pays you for your services. Every hour of your work is precious and sometimes the client keeps sending revisions over and over. Youʼll spend a lot more time that was assumed from your original scope. In such a case you will earn less on the project than you initially expected.
When a project goes like this continuing to do business with them isnʼt worth it. On the other hand if your earnings are still good despite a couple of revisions and the atmosphere and communication are friendly – itʼs good to continue your working relationship in the future.

Revisions Don’t Bite

Criticism isnʼt always the best part of the job. It doesnʼt change the fact that sometimes a couple revisions could bring the project to a better design than where it was initially headed. If the client has reasonable remarks than – despite the unpleasant situation – you might want to make the revisions.
Try not to approach your work as it is your own “child”. (Yes, I know, itʼs difficult). If you take a very personal attitude towards the design itʼs much more difficult to accept your clients criticism – even when itʼs justified.

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Are you a screwdriver?

Itʼs good to meet your client at the halfway point. We often have our own concepts and we become sensitive to any remarks from clients. Thatʼs not a good attitude. Adopting – at least – a neutral stance towards remarks is worth the effort.
On the other hand you might have to deal with clients who treat you as a screwdriver. Just as a designer was merely a tool for fulfilling their (not always right) concepts.
When in the middle of getting approval on your initial design comps, as it often happens with many things in life, reaching a happy medium is the best solution. This more than often is handled with good communication. A good designer, of course, should defend good conceptual solutions but should also understand their clients needs.

Matthew Tarczynski is the Co-Founder of Chop-Chop.org, a PSD to HTML services company. He is passionate about internet marketing.


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