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The Sure Fire Way to Get Design Sign-off

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Nothing is more demoralising than if you have worked on a design for days only to have it rejected when you finally show it to the client. But it doesn’t need to be that way.

One of the hardest parts of our job as designers is getting the client to approve the design. Nothing is more demoralising than if you have worked on a design for days only to have it rejected when you finally show it to the client.

Then there are the clients who want to see two or three designs. You end up doing three times the work only to have them ask if they can combine parts of each design. The site ends up looking like Frankensteins Monster.

In short dealing with clients is a nightmare when it comes to design. But it doesn’t need to be that way.

The problem is that we tend to work on our designs in isolation. We fail to include the client in the process.

How to Get Design Sign-off Through Collaboration

We need to escape the world of sign off nightmares, endless iterations and many initial designs. We need to create the design with the client.

Unfortunately too often we take a brief from the client and then go away. We produce the design in isolation before doing a big reveal. This is the worst way we could work.

First, a big reveal will always come as a shock. The design will not look the way they expect and people rarely respond well to a surprise.

Second, the client has no sense of ownership over the design you have produced. If they don’t feel like they contributed to the design they have no problem rejecting it.

The more you involve the client in creating a design, the greater the sense of ownership they have over that design. This means they are less likely to reject it because we don’t tend to reject something we slaved over.

Better still, they will feel invested in the design. This means they will defend it against other stakeholders in the organisation. The design is then less likely to get derailed by a boss, colleague or relation who “doesn’t like the color.”

Finally, they will get to see and influence the design as it evolves. This means that there will be no big reveal and no shock. But, it also does away with the need to provide more than one design concept. Clients ask for more than one concept because they want a choice. They want to be involved in the process. If we do involve them at every step, they don’t need to choose between concepts.

But the benefits of collaborative design does not stop at getting design sign off.

Other Benefits of Collaboration

I acknowledge that designing with a client can sound scary and does carry with it some risks. But, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. As well as helping secure design sign off it also:

Ensures the client is happy over the long term

When we do not collaborate with our clients to produce a design we often have to convince them to sign it off. Once they do we maybe happy, but the chances are they are not. At least not for the long term. They have to live with the website long after we are gone.

By working alongside the client on the design, there is a good chance the client will be happy with the final result. What is more they will understand why the design is the way it is and that will ensure they remain happy for the long term.

You are educating the client through the process

Because we engage the client with the process they are learning about web design best practice. This not only means they understand the design, it also equips them to run, maintain and improve their website.

Improves the design quality

Finally working hand in hand with clients on a design improves the quality of the design. It is easy as web designers to fall into patterns of design. In the end our designs all start to look similar. This is particularly true if we do a lot of work in one sector. Before long we end up producing cookie cutter design.

Having the client involved in the process avoids this. They bring a perspective that keeps our designs fresh. They also ensure that the design reflects the nature of the organisation rather than our own in-house style. It ensures the design reflects the clients personality and not ours.

Collaboration Done Right

The benefits of design collaboration are obvious. But, the question now becomes how to collaborate successfully.

You need to find the way that works best for you. But I want to end with a few tips that have helped me over the years:

Sit with the client

Design collaboration is possible over a distance, but it will make life much easier if you can go and work in the clients office for a few days. It’s not that the client needs to be watching you work the whole time. But being able to lean over and ask their opinion about something is invaluable.

If colocation is not possible, make sure your client is available on Skype while you are working. That way you can show them stuff as you go.

Work on content together

We tell ourselves that content is the clients problem. In reality it is the building block of good design.

Arrange a meeting to discuss the content with the client. Start from the users perspective by discussing what the user wants to know. Then design an information architecture and visual hierarchy around that. Together you can identify what content the client needs to write.

By ‘helping’ the client with content you guide them in the right direction. You also ensure the design accommodates the content they write.

Moodboard together

After you have worked on content with them, get them to work on aesthetics with you. Instead of working on many designs, brainstorm a load of moodboards together. This will enable you to explore typography, color, imagery and style in a quick and easy manner. No more iterating a design because the client doesn’t like the color. You can decide this at the moodboard stage.

Give the client a role

Remember that the client is not experienced in working on a website. Even if they are they have never worked with you and your processes. That means you need to give them guidance about their role.

I tend to give my clients three roles:

  • Focus on the user. It is always good to keep the client thinking about what the user needs.
  • Focus on the business. It is the clients job to ensure any design meets business objectives.
  • Focus on the problem. The clients job is to identify problems and mine to suggest solutions. In other words they shouldn’t say “change the color to green”. Their job is to identify the color might be a problem.
  • Value the clients opinion

    Not that clients cannot have good ideas for potential solutions. Anybody is able to come up with a good design idea. Unfortunately our pride often prevents us accepting that. The client has a lot to add to the design process.

    Of course there will be occasions when you and the client disagree. When this happens don’t allow it to become a point of conflict. Instead test both approaches with a tool like Verify, rather than arguing.

    A Better Way of Working

    You may feel that all this collaboration sounds like a lot of work that your client will not pay for. I won’t deny it does take longer, but it is better than the alternative.

    It works out cheaper than multiple designs, arguments with the client and endless iterations.

    You might hit on the right idea first time if you work by yourself. But its a gamble. Working with the client is much more predictable. That means you can cost more realistically, win more work and make a greater profit.