If you are in the design business you will run into post-approval changes, nothing is going to eliminate this headache completely. It is easy to shake your fist at the client but in all honestly it really isn’t their fault. They want to end up with the best product possible and sometimes that means that they change their mind.
Sometimes the ramification for post design approvals are relatively minimal and sometimes they are significant. However to many clients it doesn’t seem like that big a deal and they have no reason to know any better.
So what we need to do is improve our methods of educating clients as to the implications of approving a design concept. Now with my web design firm, we have gone about this in many different ways and honestly none of them have been perfect.
1. Get it in Writing
Back when I first started the company we had a hard copy paper that we printed out, faxed to the client and had them fax back to us. This felt VERY official and it really communicated the gravity of the situation.
However it also was a huge hassle and caused just as many coordination and time delays as it solved. Especially when the seriousness of it caused the client to take a second look, resulting in several additional faxes back and forth.
2. Tell Them / Get It in Person
This is a great way to do it in theory… you present the design, they love it and sign off right away. You had the approval form ready and you can move right into the next stage. The problem here is that it almost never happens. Almost every single design project is going to have some rounds of revisions, expect it and deal with it. This means you either have to setup another meeting to review / approve and hope it goes well, or drop off the form yourself. Neither really works well.
3. Get Approval via Phone / E-Mail
This is what we had been doing for some time. Calling or e-mailing the client, explaining and then asking for approval. Much easier than dealing with scanning / faxing forms and you can still educate them as to the implications of design approval. However I have found that this also, is not ideal.
Calling them requires that you spend time reading off your rehearsed “approval talk.” This takes more time than is necessary and really doesn’t feel genuine because it is boilerplate.
Sending it via e-mail is a bit better, it takes less time and you can write an approval template that sounds pretty genuine and caring.
Oddly enough even though the phone / email approach has always been easier and faster I have found that it is much less effective compared to the signed document approach. Ultimately a verbal or e-mail “approval” doesn’t feel concrete. This is a critical flaw because the client should know that making changes after this point could be difficult. It seems that the lack of taking an “official action” makes it feel very casual and non-important. Rather than a “I agree this design is exactly how I want it” it feels more like a “looks pretty good, go ahead and code.” The later mindset completely ignores the fact that the idea is the design is finalized.
4. My Latest Solution, Webforms
It struck me earlier today that this could be simplified by sending clients to a simple page explaining design approval and requesting they fill out a form to approve it. This really combines the best of both worlds in terms of commitment, communication and convenience. It doesn’t take time or hassle to send them to a URL, you can explain everything you want about the process and the action of going to a specific page and filling out your name makes it feel very official and concrete.
Now of course this probably doesn’t count as a “legal signature,” but are you really going to end up in a legal battle over design changes? Probably not.
You can see our simple design approval form here to get an idea and I expect to create a “my content is final” form shortly.
What’s Your Experience?
Have any tricks, tips or techniques to communicate the design process to clients? I would love to hear them. This is always a very tricky process and the more we can learn from each others mistakes the better.