Designer Talk: Avoiding as Many Revisions as Possible

You know that the longer you’re a designer (especially freelance) the more you’ll be able to ‘hack’ the process of designing. I am excited because I just got a MacBook screen replacement from here and now my mac works again, so I am going to tell you everything I know about how to “hack” your clients!

It’s nothing a designer wants to do more than to deliver an effective, approved design as quick as possible. It helps us move on to the next client and, honestly, it’s some great gratification.

Not all the time are we extremely lucky. Just this past week I think I did over five revisions for a client. I was also asked to redesign something that had been originally approved. I believe revisions come with the territory, but there are always ways around it. I’m sure you’ve had that client that sees your initial concept and absolutely loves it and wants to go with it.

So how can we do that more often? Of course you can talk to your client, but you’ve got to ask the right questions and do the right things. Here are some things I do that really help me out:

1. Ask what they DON’T want

What do we ask when we start a project? What kind of styles do you like? How do you want it to look? But I find that it’s very rare that designers ask what someone does NOT like. This is probably as important or more important than asking what they do want. Why?

Well, sometimes clients use very vague words. “I want a clean site”…”I want a sleek design”…”I want it to be girly”…these are all nice starting points, but are we really paying attention to that. Clean can be minimalist, or it can be decorative and hold the grunge (and as you see later, we will ask to clarify adjectives).

It’s almost imperative that you ask what they don’t want. For some it’s easier for them to tell you what they absolutely hate rather than what they love. For example, we all have that occasional client who just throws you a project and gives you creative freedom. You’ve got ideas and you want to express them. However, even though there’s no direction, I can guarantee they know what they do not want. I had a client tell me “Give me something orange and some other colors”…I made something orange and purple and they hated it. She didn’t want purple. You’ve just got to ask.

2. Ask for examples, or show them some.

We are all probably driven by inspiration. We love the blog posts that are 30 million websites for your inspiration — I mean we really eat those up. And the truth is, there’s probably something out there for every style imaginable. So, tell your client to find some examples and send them to you.

Now, the idea here is not to copy, but to get inspiration, receive some ideas and notice the detail. Ask them what they like about the example and try to incorporate it in your own way. If someone sends you a design with a Damask pattern and they like it because it’s ‘elegant’, you don’t have to use Damask, you just make sure you use that as a guideline for what is elegant.

3. It’s ok to send incomplete concepts

It is — but within reason. Don’t send a bunch of incomplete things with boxes all over the place and bad fonts chosen. I like to do this especially if I’m on a third or fourth revision. Obviously, there’s some things going amiss at this point, so I tend to whip up maybe half to 75% of the idea and then send it off to see if they like the direction. Once they approve or disprove, I know what I need to do.

It sounds like it may be a waste of time, but if you explain yourself well, you can really end up saving yourself some time. After all, no one wants to baby site various projects. That doesn’t mean we have to speed through them, but that does mean we want to get them done in a decent timeframe.

4. Clarify adjectives

As we previously mentioned, and as it is a running idea here, you’ve got to get some clarity on the adjectives and descriptive words people say. If I have a male client tell me to make something that’s generally ‘sexy’, my idea of ‘sexy’ is probably much different than his.

When you’re given one adjective, ask for a bunch more. I think we take broad terms and run with them a lot. Or even if you are suggesting a style, make sure you are clarifying and telling your client what you mean. The more you understand each other, the better.

5. Get to KNOW your client

Sit down and have a cup of coffee. Skype with them. Call them and chat about the business. Pick their brains a little bit. The more you get to know a person, the more you understand what they want. I’ve created one shots for many clients mainly because I’ve sat down and gotten to know them before I even went into designing for them.

You’ve got to know what makes them tick and what makes them think. What types of designs really intrigue them — what kind of images really represent their brand? Ask any question (of course, within reason) and file the answer in your mind. Everything we say typically relates to what is wanted. It’s like when your mom brings you your favorite candy home and you didn’t even ask her to. She just knows.

You want that type of relationship with your client. Typically, when I don’t feel the connection, I don’t bother myself because I know it’s going to be a stressful situation. The revisions will be plentiful and the relationship is more about me designing and less about me helping out. Knowing who you’re working with is huge, and if you don’t know it, you’re probably always going to have a tough time.

In the meantime, don’t be afraid of revisions. There are a lot of discussions about how many revisions are too much etc, etc. I believe it comes with the territory and if you do it right the first time, you won’t do many anyway. I always offer my clients revisions within reason. When they send you your burger made incorrectly, you want it remade, right? Do these things and make less revisions. It’s simple!

What are some preliminary questions or things you ask of your clients?

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