As designers we’ve all been there. You crank out design after design in a busy week, but a couple of your creations just don’t get approved by the clients quickly. Your production team needs to get the art approved so they can do their job as those deadlines are looming. After it’s all said and done, if you take stock in why your customer doesn’t approve the artwork immediately, or worse requests change after change, you might find that the problem lies with how you approach the design work initially. Here are some tips that have worked for me over the years in getting design work approved faster. (in no particular order):
- Truly comprehend the assignment. If you have instructions on your work order or creative brief, read them. If you are the one talking to the client, really listen to what they are saying. Either way, ask good questions if something is unclear or if you have that “crazy idea” that sounds great to you, but might be going in a surprising direction from what the customer really wants. I’m a big believer in that good design work starts with creating something that pleases you the designer first, but at the end of the day the client is the one paying for it. To put it in a food perspective, if you go to a restaurant and order a cheeseburger and the waiter brings you cedar plank smoked salmon because the chef thought “hey, I’ll do something over the top and they’ll love it!!”, would you send it back? There’s no harm in a discussion. Communication is a good thing, don’t be shy.
- Sometimes ask what they don’t want. This is a good tool to use when you are talking to a client and they are very indecisive or give you the dreaded “do something cool” art instruction. Instead of wasting your time on a design direction that might ultimately fail, start the conversation by discussion things that the client doesn’t want to see on the design. What are your limits? The story I like to use for an illustration on this concept is a Bass Fishing Tournament t-shirt as the assignment. The client gives you little direction, but you come up with this great graphic of a fisherman landing what appears to be a spectacular world record bass in his boat. You spend about four hours putting it together and send it off. It looks great and you are shocked with the client hates it. Asking why, you come to find out that they really just wanted an illustration of the fish as the main graphic, and don’t want to show people or boats. This is where a short conversation about what shouldn’t be included would pay off, and get you an approval out of the gate.
- Send them the thumbnails. Before starting a new graphic design project, I always make a bunch of thumbnail sketches because as we all know, there isn’t an idea button on the keyboard. I like to use Post-It-Notes as the sketch pad as I can easily discard any I don’t like, and the layout that makes the grade I can stick to the side of my computer monitor for reference. Sometimes if I’m uncertain my idea will be liked by the client I’ll just scan in the sketch and e-mail it to the client. These sketches only take about thirty seconds or so to doodle up, so if you can get your idea approved before you slog through the actual design construction work, the final approval will come much faster as the client will already understand the concept.
- Get some feedback. The old phrase “Man supports what he helps create” is sometimes true in the design world. If you let the client participate in the design process all along the way by having discussions, sending them the thumbnails, and keeping them in the loop, they are more apt to approve the design when you send it to them as they have been in on the process and know what’s coming.
- Double check everything. Before you send your design to your client, reread the work order and compare the instructions to your design. Everything match? Forget anything? If you didn’t use spell check before you converted your fonts to outlines (and why not?), make sure you review all text. Especially phone numbers or any critical verbiage. Make sure your Pantone colors are right, and all elements will separate and aren’t on a layer that won’t print. (Especially true if you are using someone else’s art file initially) Check your dimensions. Only once you are satisfied that your design hits all the criteria points should you send it off for approval. It’s the old carpenter rule “Measure Twice, Cut Once”.
- Use an Approval Form and mock up the design on a shirt. I’ve seen a lot of different art approvals forms from shops over the years. They all vary in style and quantity of information. The best have all the critical information you would expect, including dimension information, PMS colors, Order & PO numbers, dates and the like. However the one thing that I think is the best idea to put on the form is how you show location placement, with some guidelines like 3” down from the collar for a full front. By illustrating the exact placement your customer will know what to expect; and it also gives your production crew a blueprint to use when printing the image on the shirt. Some shops also add some deadline verbiage regarding exactly when they need the approval from the customer in order to keep their order on the production schedule so it ships on time. This is especially needed for rush orders.
- Do it early. Need your art approved so it can go into production faster? Get it scheduled and out the door earlier! If you need it handled by Friday, make sure you send it by Wednesday or Thursday. Don’t put things off.
- Make sure you use the customer’s correct email address. Seems simple, but you would be surprised at the number of e-mails people don’t receive because the sender typed in the address incorrectly. If you have any text on the standard e-mail that goes out to the client, double check to see that you are spelling their name correctly too. I get one or two e-mails a week still with my name spelled incorrectly, and it always taints the perception of quality I have for the sender.
- Follow up. If it’s been a day or two since you sent the graphic out for approval and you haven’t heard back, follow up with a quick e-mail or phone call to verify that the customer received the file and everything is ok. In your e-mail you can include a sentence or two about the importance of approving the file so the order can stay on the schedule and print on time.
- Do great work. Challenge yourself to keep your designs fresh, in your creative voice and technically sound. It is hard work keeping up and sending out killer ideas one after the other. Sooner or later you are going to send out one that you just half-assed your way through it. Keep your focus and keep searching for inspiration.
So there you have it! I’m always interested in how other people maintain their creative edge and work through their problems. Feel free to leave a comment or e-mail me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you.