Revise your view of revisions

Miscommunications, misunderstandings and plain old mistakes can make the client approval process a painful one, says Corey Holms, but it doesn’t have to be this way if designers learn to love revisions

Client revisions were the bane of my existence for the majority of my career. I have left perfectly good jobs because I got far too worked up over ‘stupid’ revisions. Granted, they weren’t the sole reason I left, but they were a contributing factor to my unhappiness. Multiple industry changes couldn’t get me away from the need to reassess how I deal with revisions.

The most important thing is to reach a state of equilibrium. If you care too much, every amendment tears your heart out. If you don’t care enough, your work suffers. The goal is to care deeply about doing good work, but not to let the revisions affect that level of care. Finding that midpoint is hard, and something that has taken me years to achieve.

Few of us are at a point in our career where we can personally argue our case with a client, and we must therefore accept all the revisions that come to us. So it is important to understand why the revision process isn’t the same for the client and designer, and to learn ways of limiting its negative effects.

Typically you start a project based on a brief, which may or may not be what the client actually intended to portray, or may or may not have been properly understood by an intermediary – your boss, for example. Then you go on to design something you think fits the bill perfectly. And the revisions start coming in. How could you have been so wrong? How could they be so wrong not to see how right your idea is? Clients aren’t privy to your thought processes and have no idea how much you have invested in this, and they are very unlikely to spend the same amount of time thinking about it as you have. But you may not know that the brief was inaccurate, or that the focus has changed within the few days you’ve been working on the project. Sometime you just aren’t privy to the criteria by which your success is being judged.

Compartmentalising the project is one way I deal with revisions. Every time I turn my work in, I accept that this portion is finished. I gauge the project’s success by whether the person I am reporting to is pleased with the work, be it a direct client, an art director, or the head of the company. Then, when revisions come in, I look at them as new assignments, and it becomes a case of completing that assignment.

There are times when a project has headed south. It happens. Sometimes you just can’t separate all the pieces out and need to trick yourself into finding something to focus on to keep up your stamina. Try to find a way to make the project relevant for you by picking something that will excite you – kern everything perfectly, or make certain you’ve built the mechanics to your liking, something that allows you to let the stress of revisions sit along the sidelines.

Worst case scenario: despite all your efforts, everything goes wrong. Don’t quit. It’s not the last thing you’re going to design.