Delusions, doubt and defensiveness

As a rule, most experienced graphic designers have a healthy dose of unapologetic self-belief when creating artwork.

Confidence is an essential ingredient in being able to publicly share any work which will become the focal point of a business brand or marketing campaign.

Artists and designers build portfolios of work which they are ultimately proud to show off. However, rarely do these pieces come out perfect the first time – particularly when creating commercial work for a client. In each project, there comes the point when we have to hand our precious digital child over to the client for approval.

How to navigate the client ‘sign-off’

We all crave approval. And, due to the aforementioned self-belief, we want our clients to love our vision straight off the bat. We don’t want to be told that our work, which we’ve poured hours of intense creative thinking and artistic skill into, might need changing. However, things rarely run that smoothly in the world of commercial graphic design.

Most designers have tales of client involvement – most excellent, but some the stuff of nightmares. And, it’s at this stage where it becomes crucial not to be overly precious about your artistic vision, or to completely lose faith in your creation.

Doubts and defensiveness

It’s natural at this stage (where you may feel your ‘baby’ is being criticised) for your instant reaction to be either doubt or defensiveness. But it’s important to listen objectively to the feedback while also remaining mindful of your role as the expert.

The goal, of course, is to fulfil your brief while making the client happy. However, you aren’t always going to agree with the feedback. You may think that they have missed something important about the work; so, it’s important to be able to push back (diplomatically of course) if needed.

If you feel the feedback is pushing the project away from the original goals (everyone hates ‘scope-creep’ after all), you may need to deploy a tactical reminder of the initial brief and goals set at the outset of the project. Focus minds back on the expected outcomes and purpose of the work. This can particularly occur when new stakeholders get added to the mix mid-project, or at that sign-off stage.

Here’s some of my golden rules to smoothly navigating the client sign-off stage:

  • Be confident in the ideas you bring – remember your position as the expert in that situation.
  • Don’t be precious; it’s not personal
  • Provide a breakdown of the artwork supplied, detailing why things are the way they are. This will often overcome any initial questions a client may have.
  • Push back when you disagree, or if you feel the project scope spiralling – but be respectful in your approach.
  • Find a middle ground if scope creep does happen – it’s not always going to be possible to say no to everything. Work with the client to work out what is essential, what will actually add value. Then agree firm deliverables, timetable and resources to complete the increased scope.

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