All Signed Off: How to cross the finish line in less pain

Bills need to be paid, projects need to be managed, the world needs to keep turning and to make all that happen there needs to be rules and order.

I get it, we all get it.

In digital projects it is no different. To get things done and paid for, they need to be scoped, estimated, priced and delivered, ideally with everyone in agreement that all’s done and well.

So why is it that despite best intentions, project plans and agreements, so many project still struggle with the mystical sign off?

Pressure, pressure, pressure

As designers / consultants we all know the pressure of deadlines. The closer they get, the more pressure there is and the more frantic we run around like headless chickens.

Clients feel pressure too. A deadline arrives and they’re expected to review materials, give feedback and ideally approve all of our lovingly crafted creations.

In reality it rarely happens that way.

A Friday deadline is agreed, materials are sent over past 6pm and the client is expected to give feedback either in writing by Monday close of business or in a 2 hour review meeting, which invariably overruns.

The main challenge is that the client does not have enough time to absorb the material. Sometimes they get bored after the executive summary on page 3 … of 230 pages!

The result is that clients only look at the surface and get stuck in details that have little to do with the core design / solution proposed causing frustration all round.

But that’s not the client’s fault.

By relying on infrequent, large scale reviews we put huge burden on the client to agree a lot in a short period of time. And given time pressure, there is a tendency to just want to get stuff out of the door, the communication that was meant to lead to an amazing product / design, just leads to frustration.

Reduce the review burden

The first challenge is often the amount that the client is expected to review. Even if you have relatively short review cycles like 1 or 2 weeks, the client can potentially end up with quite a lot of information to consume / consider and decide upon.

If you can move away from pixel perfect designs and agree rapid iterations as short as one or two days, you will make the client feel more involved and create a greater sense of co-ownership. This reduces the fundamental problem of us vs them mentality that is often seen with agencies and clients.

Shorter review cycles of course have to be caveated with the fact that any outputs are draft and for discussion only, but getting feedback early will help you avoid the mountain of changes / surprise feedback often seen with large document reviews.

Use the right format

No one really wants to review a 200 page spec document, irrespective of how beautiful the PDF might be laid out or even printed. Actually there are very few people in the world who like reviewing documents that describe interactions / digital designs.

Especially when designing for mobile, creating a document with a picture of a smartphone (usually an iPhone) with a screenshot of the website / app inside it just does not cut it. Until you can actually see a design on a device, you will not really get a sense for whether it works well or not.

Given that there are dozens of prototyping tools out there, why are we still creating so many PDFs?

Also, it makes the review process long and tedious when you have to flick through pages and pages, when you should be able to click or tap and see what happens rather than reading an annotation.

Again, I’m not advocating that you should spend hours creating a pixel perfect prototype of your design immediately. Rather start at a lower level of fidelity, but if it’s a website, put it online (for instance using AxShare or DropBox, both of which are FREE).

If it’s a mobile app, you can put it online as well (again using AxShare or ProtoIO).

Putting the design into the space it is meant to be consumed in makes any reviews so much more interesting.

Yeah, but …

There are plenty of reasons why the above might be difficult to put into practice in your particular situation (e.g. the client insists on PDFs, we do not have the tools), but more often than not the main reason for not trying new things out is the fear of change.

After all, you’ve always used Omnigraffle / Visio / Powerpoint and printed out all the designs for reviews.

But status quo has never led to innovation.