Getting a client to approve a design is the illusive milestone that designers chase their entire careers. It is all about overcoming your own creative block, getting the work done, gathering feedback and getting the client to approve the end result. Here are a few things that I have picked up working with a number of clients over the last few years.
So you have been working day and night putting your sweat, blood and tears into this new design piece. You’ve emailed your client the prototypes and screenshots, asking for their feedback, hoping to catch their attention and get the feedback ASAP.
Looking at this from the client’s perspective, they are receiving an email with numerous attachments with no context whatsoever. The client downloads the images and looks at the designs and, in most cases, they do not know how to communicate their feedback to the designer — apart from sending an email with long list of change requests or criticism.
You upon receiving the response, try to decipher and put a context on what the client tried to say. It becomes apparent that this is clearly not a very effective means of communication.
Lack of communication can ruin the project, or worse, the relationship between you and your client. How do you make sure that you clearly communicate your design decisions and effectively gather useful feedback? How do you make sure that client formally expresses their approval of the designs? Here are a few proven methods of effective communication and feedback gathering, for us creative types:
Rich Internet Applications to the rescue
With a plethora of affordable web-based proofing tools1 available at our disposal — there is no reason not to put them to use. These tools let you upload your design concepts and showcase them to your client.
The clients, in turn, get to annotate and leave comments after review. This feedback is essential for the designer to meet their client’s needs.
Some of these tools provide version management and contextual feedback systems, which are indispensable for rapid review and approval of your hard work.
Handling change requests
Change requests are usually good and constructive feedback for your designs. The client may have envisaged something different than what you have put up. Allow them to communicate what they want.
- Make sure every change request is officially documented. If a client asks you over Skype or phone to make a certain change, ask them to put it in wrtiting and send an email.
- Make a list of changes requested by the client and formally ask for a go-ahead before you commence the revision.
- Most clients, in my experience, add new ideas and features when they see the first mockup. In most cases, you have to end up adding features or tweaking some parts of your design. This could mean that you end up working extra hours for the same pay. In the event that you have to add new features and functionality to your design than what had previously been agreed upon, be sure you are charging extra for your time.
Staying within the scope
I am sure you and your client have agreed upon some Terms and Conditions before you commenced work on your project. Make sure you have communicated to the client that you will charge extra for any change in the scope of the project (i.e. addition of features).
- The client will, inevitably, come up with more ideas and request more changes during the entire process. But make sure that you stay within the scope originally defined during the beginning of project. If you are exceeding the scope, make sure you update the invoices.
- Feedback is good, but only if it does not make the deadlines impossible. Design changes can push the deadline of the project into months of delay — and when the delivery is delayed, it is the designer who is blamed. Therefore, in such cases you need to educate your client that further changes can be made post-launch and in order to deliver the product on time, it is essential to stick to the scope and timeframe. The key is to stick to the original timeline and helping the client limit the scope of the project.
Get them to sign a confirmation
Get it on paper and lay ground rules for future changes to design. It may not seem very important at the time, but it is vital that you get written (as opposed to verbal) approval of your designs.
The design will inevitably be changed in the future, during build and after launch. So make sure that in the future, the design changes are paid for. There should be a clear provision in your contract that allows additional design changes after the sign-off to be fully payable.
Change requests after sign-off
So often clients change their minds after they have said ‘yes’ to the design. The more they look at the designs, the more things they want changed.
If the changes are a must, you should be able to charge your clients for every change you make after the design has been approved — by the hour.
Feedback and approval are complex procedures and must be handled with a lot of professionalism. It is vital for complex design projects to have an effective communication platform. In my experience, having a lean and well-thought-out review and approval process can save a lot of time and in most cases, help you deliver client’s requirements on time.
Please feel free to share your experiences and opinion. How do you ensure timely sign-off from your clients?
- Designm.ag has 10 Rules and Resources for Better Design Feedback.
- Paul Boag, the guru, has written 10 Ways To Get Design Approval at 24ways.org.
- Paul Boag has his SXSW presentation about Pain Free Design Sign-Off at Boagworld.
- SmashingMagazine provides invaluable advice in How To Get Sign-Off For Your Designs, once again, by Paul Boag.