A Graphic Designer’s Dilemma: How to Prevent Revisions & Other Client Issues

Time is a freelance graphic designer’s biggest asset. We are paid per project basis. Unless we get a project done and approved by the client, we won’t get paid nor start on another project.

Being a freelance designer is a job made in heaven or hell. Don’t you love the feeling of fulfillment once your design has been approved?  Being recognized and praised for your work is the best feeling to have, but this is not always the case—some bosses are harder to please than others. We have been on that road before, on one time or another—clients demanding revision after revision, asking for changes and modifications. There are so many demands that you feel like every creative juice has been squeezed out of your head. What do you do?

Of course, there’s no easy answer to this. We can’t please everybody. Sometimes we get disgruntled because clients ask for too many changes that we have to compromises the whole design and aesthetic. Clashes can occur, especially since some clients lack the creative set to distinguish design from rubbish.

Photo by: Zsuzsanna Kilian

Avoiding Revisions and other Issues

As revisions are inevitable, there are actually a few ways on how you can avoid them:

Know what they want

Master the art of communication. Client communication is the most important part of Freelance Designing. The best way to solve misunderstandings and frustrations is simply through proper communication. Always ask them their demands and preferences before starting a project. Ask them for their expectations.

Meet halfway

For your part, give them an overview on how you work and on what they should expect from you. Give them details on what you can and what you cannot do. If you can, present them a portfolio of your previous works to give them a glimpse of your design philosophy.

The most important part is meeting halfway. Yes, we graphic artists are trained to know the good from the ugly–but do not assume you know what to do and what your client wants. See to it that your client’s needs are met but not so much that it could compromise the design.

Be Inspired

Photo by: Raja R

Take time to think and be inspired. Jumping on a project without some inspiration can cause creative burn out. Thus, find ways to get inspired in order to think of fresh and innovative ideas. Avoid getting ideas from the internet–go out and derive inspiration from real life. Brainstorm, read a book, take a walk or take a pencil and doodle. Sleep it in and start the project the next day–brain recharged and stress free.

Clearly explain to them the objectives of the project

You and your client should come up with a set list of objectives approved by both parties. So much time can be wasted if there are no ground rules given. So before starting a project, ask the client what they want to achieve for the said project, and put it in writing. Objectives will give you a clear rundown on where you’re heading for both you and your client. After finishing the project, you can see if the objectives have been met.

Present your client a timeline

Create a timeline for the current project handled. This will force you to put a deadline to the project, removing your chances of procrastinating. Creating a timeline will help you manage your time properly, so that you can proceed to other projects. Your client will appreciate the effort, as well.

Make your clients understand your side

Many of our headaches come from the clients themselves–for example, giving us low resolution images to use, or insisting on using Comic Sans MS for their site, or asking for crappy color combinations like orange and black. Do not be afraid to voice out your opinion as a designer–make them understand. Tell them that low res images won’t look good when printed out, that Comic Sans MS will make a web site look second grade-ish, and that orange and black is best left to use for the Halloween season.

A creative brief is a great tool to keep track of the project’s progress. It doesn’t need to be that long (as the name ‘creative brief’ suggests). A short, one page creative brief will do. Write a good creative brief and explain the design thoroughly, in order to prevent any more further provisions and changes.

Present your client with several design studies

Some graphic designers make the mistake of worshipping their own work. They think that their design is so good the client will instantly love it. Once creating a single design, their mind is closed for other new ideas on how to approach it. Read: This is a big mistake.

Clients love to work with people who have plenty of ideas. Multi-faceted designers are always valued. So for a project, be sure to present, three, four, or more proposed designs for the project to show off your versatility and imagination as a graphic designer. For every design, you can make more studies by varying colors, fonts and the layout design so that your client. Providing several variations by mixing and matching in order to provide the client a wide range of choices to choose from.

Don’t Worry: Revisions are OK!

If your client asked you for revisions, don’t be such a sour puss. Too many designers tend to complain and sulk if their design don’t get approved. The creative set are known to be too proud to accept the fact that their design needs a little tweaking. Accept it, be happy to have given feedback, and do your job.

Once you get a list of revisions, create an outline and prioritize things in order. Inform the client the maximum client revisions you’re willing to do per project, and ask them to give instructions to you in sets, and not one at a time.

Revisions can be tiring, but it is another way to learn and add experience. Moreover, strive to prevent further unnecessary revisions by listening to your client carefully.

Rachel Arandilla

Rachel Arandilla is a curious subject -- she appreciates things that are quirky & clever. She loves spontaneity and adventure. She is a carefree soul, has a deep love for travel, culture and languages. And she's beginning to wonder she keeps on referring to herself in third person perspective.

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  1. says

    Great article.

    I find it really helpful to sit with the client and write down their brief and build on ideas together through sketch as well as bullet points. After the meeting is over within the space of a couple of hours I send a quick follow up email outlining the discussion whilst still fresh in both your heads. This email is the start of the formal proposal and for both parties forms the technical outline that can be worked towards.

    It’s sometimes tempting, especially if short on time, to send clients one design example and go from there. Sometimes this approach is loved by the client and constitutes nailing the brief in one. Fantastic for the ego! :)
    Off the back of this “get the ball rolling design” and if the client is still undecided, further revisions can be hinged off and built on the original design, or a complete redesign presented with any positives from the first design included.

    To add further to multiple design studies: It also depends largely on the client and your previous relationship with them, it may be the case from doing a previous project you learn that some clients need a certain amount of fencing around a particular design direction otherwise their indecision or rapid decision change can impact on the way forward as they are simply presented with “too much choice”. You can also establish this with the client in the brief “we need three different treatments.” or “give us two options, one that looks like this (example) and one like this (diff. example)”

    It’s often Murphy’s law that the client will also pounce on “filler” design that you might have rushed out in 5 mins between your two killer ideas, so be careful what you choose to present as you might have to go forward with it!

    If presenting to a group of people I think it’s advisable to backup your design(s) with mood boards and your creative process in a powerpoint, pdf’s or some-such, so that if people have negative feedback in the presentation to certain aspects of your design (from a personal taste perspective or market logic) you can prepare a counter argument to show them your backup preparation and reasoning and bring them on board or easily compromise with further revision.

    It’s also important to develop a thick skin. Sometimes clients can be completely random or totally counter-intuitive to your own personal taste as a designer. This can be frustrating as they just don’t “get” your ideas and you can not believe their taste. I’ve personally witnessed the best designers with really great responses to briefs, that receive great feedback to everyone they’ve shown, get thrown out or irrevocably destroyed by the client. Weird huh?!

    And remember: there’s always clientsfromhell.net to have a good funny secret rant to fellow designers if it all goes pear shaped! Don’t get mad, get paid :)

  2. PD says

    What do you do if your employers have zero to little aesthetic sense, and only want to please the client?