Why we ask clients to sign off on design work

Signing off a design can be a little scary for clients and in truth it should be; but for good reason.

Design sign off is the final milestone of the design phase of a new website. It’s an agreement between agency and client that the design is complete and that no further changes will be made. But it’s this feeling of finality that worries a client.

An image != a website

That a static image is how we present the design of a new website is a problem. Images lack so much information about how a website will function that we often have to walk a client through the things the design cannot show. To expect clients to not want to make changes when they start interacting with the real thing is an unrealistic expectation and one that design sign off doesn’t address.

Some agencies and software providers are trying to provide alternative solutions, but as yet these aren’t suitable for all cases.

Indecision

Some clients aren’t worried by the things they cannot see but by those they can. A client may not personally like the aesthetics of the design, be concerned about the interpretation of a specific function or be concerned that a redesign may not provide benefits over an existing solution.

In these cases clients will seek to tweak a design or gain feedback from external sources such as through user testing or by committee. A client simply wants reassuring about a design but changes to design sign off can do pacify this desire.

The truth is it’s not final

We communicate design sign off as an agreement that the design is complete. We do this because it’s easier than telling the truth. The truth is that we want clients to think it’s the last time they can change the design to minimise the number of changes that are requested afterwards.

We’re not trying to fool our clients. We work with many clients that are new to the web and so we focus on educating them on more important things. A website is built so it can always change, it’s just some changes are easy and some not so much, but anything is possible.

Many Solutions

There are many ways in which to build a website and so the design has a large bearing on how a developer will write the code to recreate a design on the web. If a client wishes to change a colour, or some content then these are usually simple changes but to move whole sections around can be a big job.

Imagine the production of a new car. If the customer wished the colour to be changed then it’s a fairly simple re-spray (though in this example there’d be a charge for that) but if they wished to convert from a 3 door to a 5 door car that means producing a whole new car.

If you look at the side profile of 3 and 5 door cars of the same model there are a number of differences that mean it’s not as simple as cutting two new doors out of the 3 door frame. The same applies to websites in that some changes can’t be easy applied to the existing code. This can result in a lot of extra work and so can cost clients extra.

Affordability

Yes changes that mean redoing work are irritating but the problem with late changes is they take more time. More time on a project equals less profit and possibly the need to charge extra.

At Bronco we try to build high quality websites at prices more affordable than some of the large agencies. This means we have processes in place like design sign off to ensure the smooth progression of a project as numerous changes late in the project can increase the cost of the website for the client. For some clients the extra costs are acceptable but wherever possible we try to save our clients money especially on things that could have been avoided. By asking a client to sign off on a design we try to push them into a sense that all the big decisions surrounding the design have to be made before we start building.

Wait and See

We’re simply trying to avoid a ‘wait and see’ attitude in our clients knowing that many would rather make decisions early than be stung with extra costs later. It’s for this reason that we ask our clients to sign off on all design work.

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