Reaching Your Limit: How to Manage Design Change Requests
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Reaching Your Limit: How to Manage Design Change Requests

Post Author - Kat Boogaard Kat Boogaard Last Updated:

You’ve redesigned a website for a client—let’s call him Joe. You send over the link to the staging site so that he can take a look at what you’ve done so far. Overall, Joe is happy with it (or so he says…). But, then comes the inevitable onslaught of design change requests.

First, Joe wants you to change the font in the navigation. So, you make that tweak.

Then, he wants you to change it back. You do that.

Now, he’s not even sure if he likes the entire style of the navigation anymore.

In fact, he thinks the whole color scheme he initially proposed might be off.

Did you just let out a groan or an exasperated sigh?

I can’t blame you. As a web designer, you know that requests for changes from your clients are all a part of the process.

But, at the same time, you know you need to draw a line in the sand somewhere. If you don’t stop this snowball from rolling, you’re certain you’ll continue making tiny revisions and alterations for at least the next year.

So, how can you do that?

How can you put a stop to the endless change requests, without seeming difficult or inflexible?

It can be a sticky situation, no doubt.

Fortunately, there are a few tips and tactics you can implement to effectively deal with that client—without destroying the relationship or your reputation.

1. Understand your client

As you can likely imagine, mitigating issues with constant design change requests involves being proactive. The more you can understand your client right from the get-go (and the more you have similar expectations in place!), the easier the rest of your engagement will be.

The more you understand your client, the easier your relationship will be.

Make it your goal to get a solid feel for what exactly your client is looking for in a new or redesigned website. “An effective website will be built to address the specific needs of the business, which will require the designer to accurately understand a lot of details about the business,” explains Steven Snell in a post for Vandelay Design.

A few things you’ll want to be sure to touch on include:

  • What is their overall goal with the website? To increase sales? Improve their online presence? Build an email list? Establish a stronger community?
  • What does their ideal customer look like? Who should you be aiming to appeal to with this website?
  • What sorts of websites do they like and admire?
  • What are some websites that they dislike? Why?

A lack of knowledge of the client’s target customer and a lack of understanding of the client’s overall industry are two of the biggest complaints that clients have about outsourcing their web design.

So, knowing those details before you ever design a single thing will not only reassure your client of your expertise and professionalism, but it will also help you to better align the design to what exactly the client is looking for.

2. Sign an agreement

Has your agency ever began work on a project without any sort of signed agreement or contract in place?

That’s a big mistake.

I know—getting all of that legal mumbo jumbo out of the way can be a headache.

But, it’s an important piece of the process that you absolutely don’t want to skip—particularly if you’re hoping to limit the number of revisions (or charge for the changes you do make!).

This is just another formal way of ensuring that you and your client are on the same page before you even start one piece of the project.

Whether you want to create a contract, a project charter, or something else that gets your point across, it’s important that you write down and agree upon the details of the project—including how you’ll handle revisions.

  • Is there a specific amount of revisions that are included in the quoted price?
  • Or, are all revisions billed separately?
  • If so, will you charge per hour or how exactly will those be billed?
  • Is there a limit on how many revisions you’ll make or the timeline in which you’ll do them?

Get that all in writing, talk it over with your client, and then have them sign their name on the dotted line. That way, you can always point back to that agreement if and when those constant changes keep cropping up. Having that in your corner will help greatly.

3. Educate your client

You know about web design—your client doesn’t. That’s why they hired you to take this project on.

So, if you think that your client is already in the know on how things work and the way your process flows, it’s time for a reality check: It’s your job to educate them on how you like to work.

As a web designer, you likely view the revision process as a time to make tiny tweaks that push their website across the finish line.

But, your client?

Perhaps they view that completed site you sent them as the first draft of many—and the revision process as a time when they can completely overhaul your design and take the website in a completely different direction than what was agreed upon.

You know that revisions are an oftentimes inevitable piece of the design process, and you should make it clear to your client that you do expect some changes to crop up.

In your first meeting with a new client, explain this process as part of your overall work approach. You’ll set up certain expectations—of both your role and their role. That will give them a clear perspective on how the project will unfold and they’ll understand that revisions are part of the process,” says Egle Karalyte in a post for Creative Bloq.

With a better understanding of your process in place, the client should hopefully respect your boundaries and provide appropriate revisions and directions at the appropriate times.

4. Ask for reasoning

Let’s face it—you’ll view pretty much every revision request from a client as unnecessary or wrong. Otherwise, you would’ve designed the site that way to begin with.

But, your end goal is to make the client happy. And, sometimes that involves making changes that you don’t necessarily agree with.

However, when a change is requested, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with asking a few follow-up questions about why the client feels strongly about that revision. In fact, doing so can help to solidify your understanding of what exactly they’re looking for.

  • What do they believe this change will accomplish?
  • What do they have against the design as it stands right now?

Of course, you don’t want to ask these things in an aggressive or accusatory manner.

Instead, make it clear that your aim is simply to better understand where the client is coming from—so that you can keep that reasoning in mind when making design decisions moving forward.

5. Stand your ground

There’s a lot to be said for having a certain degree of flexibility—design is subjective and ultimately the client needs to be happy.

However, sometimes you’re going to need to say when enough is enough.

Perhaps the client is having a design change request that you profoundly disagree with. Or, maybe this is a revision request in a long line of other ones, and you need to put your foot down.

This can be tricky, particularly when you have that “customer is always right” mantra ingrained in your brain.

But, as long as you had a signed agreement in place beforehand, this really doesn’t need to be that complicated. In fact, it typically only involves sending a short, friendly, and professional email.

Let’s go back to our hypothetical client, Joe. It’s past the revision period you agreed upon, and you need to let him know that—while you’re willing to do the additional revisions he has asked for—they will add to the cost of the project.

In this case, you could keep things short and simple with an email like:

Hey Joe,

I’m more than willing to make this change. However, it’s past the revision period we had agreed upon. I’ve re-attached our signed agreement here for your reference.

If you’d like me to move forward with this revision, it will be billed at a cost of $50 per hour. I anticipate this change requiring about two hours of work.

Please let me know if you’d like me to complete that revision, as well as if you have any questions. Thanks, Joe!


Your Name

The exact email you send will need to be tweaked depending on your specific circumstances.

But, the important things to remember are to be firm (you don’t want to end up doing tons of additional work for free!), refer back to your original agreement if you have one, and keep things polite and professional.

6. Part ways

Despite all of your efforts, that client continues to send you endless revision requests—often at 3AM over the weekend. You’ve had numerous conversations about your process and your agreement, but the changes just keep coming.

As much as it sucks, this could be a solid indicator that you and this client just aren’t a good fit together, and it’s best for both of you if you go your separate ways.

Breaking up is hard to do, and you ideally want to avoid terminating a relationship at all costs. But, in some cases, it can end up saving both of you tons of headaches (not to mention a tarnished reputation!) if you’re able to recognize when it’s time to cut your losses.

If you feel there’s no way you’re going to be able to make this client happy and your attempts to do so are monopolizing your time and energy, it’s in your best interests to send a polite email informing that client of your situation, providing notice, and then eventually billing for only the work that was completed so far.

Is it the easiest thing to do?

Definitely not.

But, sometimes it’s your only option.

Over to you

It can be tempting to continue making endless design changes just to appease your client. But, you know that’s not a smart way to work.

Instead, it’s important to be proactive about the issue and address it head-on when it does occur.

Use these tips, and you’ll be able to put an end to those constant change requests with as little hassle as possible!

Kat Boogaard

Kat is a freelance writer specializing in career, self-development, and productivity topics. She's passionate about being as efficient and effective as possible—much of which she owes to her 114 words per minute average typing speed. When her fingers aren't flying on the keyboard, she loves to bake, read, hike, or tackle yet another DIY project around her home.

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