5 Tips to Improve Your Design Sign-Off Process

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Everyone knows good design when they see it. Unfortunately, everyone has a different opinion about what “good design” actually is. This is a problem if you’re creating products, software, graphics or other media for a client. Your design may need to be agreed by multiple people all with their own notions and prejudices about how the product should look, feel and work. If you’re banging your head against the wall in frustration, here are five tips which could help…

1. Outline Your Process

Walk your client through your design process. In the web sphere, this could be:
  1. collate the requirements and objectives
  2. devise concepts, walkthroughs, story boards and wireframes
  3. produce a final mock-up or prototype for approval
A little tweaking at all stages should be expected, but avoid falling into iterative traps; i.e. the client demands 27 different concepts, scavenges their favorite parts of each and creates a Frankenstein design which has little hope of satisfying the original requirements.

2. Avoid Design-by-Committee

Ideally, your final design should be signed off by one person — two at most. Unfortunately, many organizations have a culture where employees are afraid to make mistakes; it’s safer to sit on the fence than take responsibility for a decision. You may encounter situations where a decision is reached by compromise: half liked the blue design, half liked the red, so they settled on purple (which no one liked). The problem is exacerbated by design meetings. Meetings can be dominated by one or two people who force their opinion on others or use the forum as a battleground for political posturing. The design suffers and the opinions of quieter members are never heard.

3. Approach Decision Makers Individually

If the final sign-off absolutely must be agreed by multiple people, approach them individually. You can explain why the design satisfies the original objectives on a one-to-one basis and collect feedback. It gives everyone a voice, prevents internal politics and documents the responses. It’s also makes it harder to raise objections at a later stage. Obviously, this can take more time than a single meeting but it’s less likely lead to design compromises. Rather than performing your presentation multiple times, you could consider creating a video or slideshow. That should reduce the effort required and it’s impossible for viewers to interrupt!

4. Ask Direct Questions

“What do you think of the design?” is the worst question you can ask (especially by email). It turns an objective critique into a subjective discussion. People will resort to their gut instinct or first impression; you’ll rarely get anything more informative than “I liked it” or — worse — “I didn’t like it”. Ask direct questions such as:
  1. Does the design satisfy requirement X?
  2. Does the design meet the defined business objectives?
  3. Does the design implement all features outlined in the wireframes?
This makes it easier to identify and document specific issues. Avoid obliging decision makers with open-ended discussions: if they can’t pinpoint a problem accurately and concisely, that problem doesn’t exist.

5. Use the Wisdom of Crowds

If the client steadfastly refuses to appoint a single decision maker, you could consider taking the process to the other extreme. Ask everyone’s opinion: all company employees, their customers, website visitors, passers by, social media users, etc. A decision can be made by poll statistics; it’s difficult for an individual to complain if 94% of respondents stated the design satisfied all objectives. Please share your sign-off scare stories. Was approval expected from 93 people? Did a client dither for months? Did a lovely original concept turn into a monster? Was a design rejected because Amy in Accounts didn’t like a shade of green which reminded her of broccoli? Comments welcome…

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Design Sign-off Process

What is the importance of a design sign-off process in project management?

The design sign-off process is a critical step in project management. It serves as a formal agreement between the client and the design team, confirming that the design meets the client’s requirements and expectations. This process helps to avoid misunderstandings and miscommunications, ensuring that everyone is on the same page about the design’s final look and functionality. It also provides a clear record of approval, which can be useful in resolving any disputes or disagreements that may arise later in the project.

How can I improve the efficiency of the design sign-off process?

Improving the efficiency of the design sign-off process involves clear communication, setting realistic expectations, and using the right tools. Firstly, ensure that the client understands the design process and their role in it. Secondly, set realistic timelines for feedback and revisions to avoid unnecessary delays. Lastly, use digital tools that allow for real-time collaboration and feedback, making the process quicker and more streamlined.

What are some common challenges in the design sign-off process and how can they be addressed?

Some common challenges in the design sign-off process include miscommunication, delays in feedback, and scope creep. These can be addressed by setting clear expectations, maintaining open lines of communication, and having a well-defined scope of work. Regular meetings and updates can help keep everyone on the same page and ensure that the project stays on track.

How can I ensure that the client is satisfied with the design before sign-off?

Ensuring client satisfaction before sign-off involves regular communication, incorporating their feedback, and providing them with a clear understanding of the design. Regularly update them on the progress of the design and ask for their input. This not only makes them feel involved in the process but also helps to ensure that the final design meets their expectations.

What should be included in a design sign-off document?

A design sign-off document should include a detailed description of the design, any specifications or requirements, and a clear statement of approval from the client. It should also include any terms and conditions, such as payment terms, copyright information, and any other legal considerations. This document serves as a formal agreement between the client and the design team, so it’s important that it’s comprehensive and clear.

What happens after the design sign-off process?

After the design sign-off process, the project moves into the production or development phase. This is where the approved design is turned into a final product or implemented into the project. The design team will work closely with the production or development team to ensure that the design is accurately translated into the final product.

Can changes be made after the design sign-off?

Changes after the design sign-off are generally discouraged as they can lead to delays and additional costs. However, if changes are necessary, they should be discussed and agreed upon by both the client and the design team. Any changes should be documented and may require a new sign-off.

How can I avoid scope creep during the design sign-off process?

Scope creep can be avoided by having a well-defined scope of work and sticking to it. Any changes or additions to the scope should be discussed and agreed upon by both parties, and may require additional time and resources. Regular communication and updates can also help to keep the project on track and avoid any unexpected surprises.

What role does the client play in the design sign-off process?

The client plays a crucial role in the design sign-off process. They are responsible for reviewing the design, providing feedback, and ultimately approving the design. Their input and approval are essential to the success of the project.

How can digital tools aid in the design sign-off process?

Digital tools can greatly aid in the design sign-off process. They allow for real-time collaboration and feedback, making the process quicker and more efficient. They can also provide a clear record of approval, which can be useful in resolving any disputes or disagreements that may arise later in the project.

Craig BucklerCraig Buckler
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Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.

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