The joy of un-ending design revisions

If you ever read about clients from hell, usually there’s a story that involves someone who couldn’t make up their mind about a design concept. The story typically goes that the designer showed the client, something that they thought was amazing. 50 revisions later, the sky turned green, and the client was dictating what font should be used. Everything goes off the rails.

Design revisions are something that won’t be going away anytime soon. As long as we’re dealing with human beings, there will be design revisions. But they don’t have to be the painful process that client from hell type stories usually spell out.

So how do you go through a design project, dealing with revisions and not lose your mind?

Well, first things first, prevention is your friend. Lay down some groundwork ahead of time and make sure that both you and your client are on the same page. It helps avoid any surprises further into the process where they start asking for revisions like crazy. The biggest thing you can do is ask questions — and don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions. And when you ask questions, make sure you’re listening as well. If a client can point you in a direction of what they’re expecting or styles they like, you can get into their head a little bit (creatively) and figure out what it is that they’re looking for.

If you’re further into the project and they’re already starting to get a antsy about revisions, dig into it. If the client wants the sky green, there may be a deeper concern that they have. It can be difficult for clients to figure out how to get those points across, because they’re not designers. If you ask questions, you may find that they’re only concerned about how their clients would respond to the work. However, some find it easier to come to the table with a suggested change instead of addressing the initial concern.

Let’s say that the revisions are starting to pile up though. What then? Depending on the client and the project and the agreement, you also might want to take a look at what point it’s worth starting over.

Usually, after two to three design revisions, I feel like I’m kind of hitting the max with how far something should be changed and rearranged. If the client is starting to suggest fourth and fifth revisions, it might be worth sitting down and asking if the concept that you’re working on is worth continuing. There’s a point where it becomes easier to start over again, and take into account some of these new concerns. And this isn’t usually the fault of the client or the designer if something like this happens.

I’ve had cases where have through the project, some of the project goals had to change to better align with new business goals. Of course, it’s frustrating, but its business in these things happen. Having clear and open communication with the client can help keep things moving forward in this case. Sometimes it’s better to start fresh and a new perspective.

One other thing that can help is showing some of your initial sketches or rough ideas a little bit sooner than you may be used to. It is tempting to show a finished and polished piece to a client. But sometimes it can be helpful to send over a few sketches and see where things sit with your client. It can open up a discussion about if that’s reaching the goals that you have both set out in the first place.

What I like about this, is it helps get the better ideas out and to the top a lit quicker. You’re not as invested in the design at this point and if it isn’t working, it’s no big deal to discard it. It’s also a good way to make the client feel more involved in the process, too. You can get some good feedback out of this. Sometimes, clients go crazy with revisions because they feel like they aren’t a part of the process. I know as designers, we usually hold on to our process a little bit close to our chest, because after all, we’re the creative ones. But sometimes opening up a little bit and keeping them in the loop can make a difference in the relationship.

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