Getting Approval: 9 Tips to Get Your Designs Approved By Clients
One of the most difficult steps in any design process is selling that design to your clients and getting it signed-off. This is something that I have grown to really enjoy as I have become more experienced... in this article, I'll share a few secrets to getting your designs approved by clients quickly and easily.
A lot of people would think that if you understood the client and project well enough, made the right decisions and put in lots of hard work, your design should sell itself and the sign-off will go on very smooth, but as much as you would like your design to speak for itself, walking the client through a design and discussing comments always has a stronger impact and a higher probability for approval.
Here are a few tips to help you turn this fearful step into something you would enjoy and look forward to…
Tip 1. Make Well Researched and Studied Design Decisions
Assuming you came up with a great and wonderful design, you will still need to think through and study your designs. In order to sell something and gain approval you will need to be able to explain why certain decisions were made, although this may seem obvious, but I have been through hundreds of design meetings to know as a fact that designers almost always make design decisions without really knowing why because it's easy to work on instinct and not fully think through decisions as they're being made. DO NOT fall into this trap, it will come back and hurt you when it's time to sign-off your designs.
Tip 2. Know Your Stakeholders
It's highly important to know who will be reviewing your work as early in the process as possible, don't trust that your clients will simply give you this information and never rely on assumptions.
Ask them specifically who will be making the decisions, doing this will help you tailor your presentation and could influence your design decisions as well, but beware; even if you're 100% sure who will be reviewing your work and who is making decisions, always be prepared to present your design to anyone, I cannot say how many times a new decision maker was introduced in the middle of a project or even in the middle of the presentation itself, and usually you will find that this person is someone who's opinion carry's a lot of weight, this will happen from time to time, so always be prepared.
Tip 3. Set Expectations
It's important to set yourself up for success from the beginning, tell your stakeholders what you're going to do and how the design process is going on, explain your design decisions and tell your client why they are a good fit. Tell them they are going to love the work you've done before showing them anything, the more you can be in the mood the better it should go.
Always remember that your clients hired you to help them as a professional consultant, they will let you lead them if you step up and take the reins from the beginning.
You'll find out that it's always better to stick to decisions you are comfortable and 100% convinced with than try to please a specific client or do something just because the client asked for it.
Tip 4. Only Show the Great Stuff
I am a big fan of doing my homework and researching what the client needs then target one single design, however in many cases this is not an option and some clients need to have choices.
If you are presenting multiple options, you should only show the ones you feel are good enough, if you show 2 good designs and one "not so good", you're not only disappointing your client, but you're just asking to get stuck with a design you're not happy about.
You have to also beware of ending up with a combination of two or more totally different designs, you need to avoid the client's love for playing the "mix and match" game, make sure they know upfront and before you show them anything that this is not an option.
If your designs are presented as JPEGs, always keep your quality up to a max, never compress review designs, it's better to stick to PNG files as they keep the full quality of the original design.
Tip 5. Getting Feedback
When going into a feedback cycle with your stakeholders, be sure and let them know in detail what kind of feedback you need. "I just don't like it" kind of feedback will not do, they need to be extremely specific and detailed in the feedback they give, they need to have a reason for not liking something, make them really have to think about what they're telling you. Not only will it help get your designs approved later on, it will also give you much better feedback to work with when it comes to revisions.
Educate your client into giving you problems not solutions. The difference between what clients often think they're paying for and what we really do is exactly the difference between architects and construction workers. Architects plan and design new buildings, and construction workers implement those plans. Likewise, there are two tasks in creation of a new website: the planning/design, and the implementation. In some cases, they are both done by the same person — but it seems that many clients are expecting their web designer to be far more concerned with the implementation than with the design. That is to say, they sometimes see us as web monkeys who simply carry out whatever they ask of us. But the reality is they're losing out on half of our skill set when they do this — and it really should be our responsibility to educate them as such.
"Make the logo bigger" is a solution. "The brand isn't prominent enough" is a problem; it's the client's job to bring problems, and the designer's job to find solutions. A good designer needs to be able to lead their stakeholders to a certain extent, clients are very often non-designers (and sometimes non-creative in general), it's common for them to only see — and therefore suggest — the obvious solution.
Clients who insist on art directing every step of the way usually lose out — and frustrate the hell out of a designer.
Brandon wrote a complete article on "Getting Feedback" - read it here.
Tip 6. Defend, but Never Become Defensive
Be prepared to defend yourself without being defensive, chances are you will get some feedback you don't agree with, sometimes it could really damage the integrity of the design. Your goal here is to not let your clients do something they will regret later on and whatever you do DON'T roll over on major design decisions, but take care, the last thing you would want to do is getting defensive, don't let your ego get in the way, a defensive attitude will clearly show and you'll damage your credibility and the designs with it.
When it comes to the smaller stuff, go ahead and let the client win, it's not worth fighting over something trivial, pick your battles and fight those only worth fighting.
Tip 7. Listen Up!
The most important thing during a design review is listening; you have to understand your stakeholder's questions and feedback. This simple fact of listening and letting them share how they feel about your work will help you sell it, always remember you are working for and with them, they are an essential part of the design process and you need them to succeed.
Be patient in your replies, listen first, think it over then reply, do not disagree or reply with the first word that comes out of the client's mouth, don't over interrupt your stakeholders, give them space to talk, the more they talk the more likely they will listen to you.
Tip 8. Print It!
Printing your design on paper (preferably A3 size), although avoiding the true user experience such as scrolling, clicking, hovering and the above-the-fold phenomenon, it keeps change requests down to a minimum as it makes stakeholders comfortable with the medium they are reviewing and lets you avoid unexpected cases such as power outage, broken projectors, bad screens…etc.
Tip 9. Prepare Comps
If you know your client would want to see design or color variations for certain components, DO IT. Not doing so risks having your client not approving on the spot because they are waiting to see the "other variations", I am not talking here about different designs, but only different variations or colors from the same design.
Satisfying their need to see variations will help you guide them to the best one and make a decision.
Learning how to sell a design and get it approved is an educational process, you'll get better as you gain more experience interacting with different stakeholders, but always remember, the idea is to get the best possible design for your client, not for you.
Do you have any of your own tips for getting quick client approval? Have a comment or question? Post it below in the comments!
About the Author
Ahmed Hussam is currently UI Manager at Link Development and Adobe User Group Manager in Egypt. He is an Architect With over 15 years of experience in the design and web development world, an experienced CFML developer, and was managing 2 of the most successful creative teams in Egypt over the past 10 years. He's also an MCDBA and is GAIQ certified. He writes about Design, UI Development, User Experience, Management, Technology, Gadgets…and much more.