How to keep website design change requests under control

How to keep website design change requests under control (without ticking off your clients)

If you have ever been involved in a website design project, you can probably relate to change requests gone wild. Before you know it, a three-week project turns into seven, you’ve gone above and beyond the scope of the original design, and the finished product is totally different than what you and the client originally envisioned.

If you don’t put a stop to change-request overload, you’ll face three awkward choices: Tell your client you have to walk away; ask the client for more money; or just bite your tongue and get taken advantage of — again!

“It is very easy to get inundated with a bunch of seemingly small-change requests that end up adding many hours to a project. This can also have a direct effect on hitting or missing a planned launch date,” says Brett Nordin, a web developer at Grateful Ventures. As a company that aims to help online influencers and content creators optimize their websites with smart design, the Grateful team’s success is directly related to a well-organized process.

Here’s how to be more efficient when it comes to design change requests so you can stay within budget, meet deadlines, and create a result the client (and your team!) will love:

1. Start with a detailed game plan.

When you first engage the client, you should discuss goals, identify the target audience, and discuss the ultimate purpose of the site. Then, explain your design process and work together to map out a timeline for the first draft, revision(s) and the final product.

2. Make it official.

Once you’ve reached a verbal agreement, draw up a contract or statement of work that includes the scope of the project down to how many revisions are included. You also can specify how additional requests will be billed, and what the timeline/procedure is for fulfilling change requests.

3. Let strong mockups do the heavy lifting.

According to Nordin, the mockup stage is where most of the brainstorming takes place, and how he’s able to determine the client’s vision. “I also try to get a client to provide some websites they like the feel of so we can better grasp what they are looking for in some of the usability aspects of the site,” he says.

When he helped redesign, a popular baking recipe portal and blog, the process began with creating a few detailed design mockups. “The goal is always to greatly reduce the amount of change requests, because it shows a level of detail the client can clearly see and know they like,” says Nordin.

Grateful’s design team worked hand-in-hand with Sally to create visual mockups that fit exactly what she was trying to achieve. When the finished product matched the visuals she had already approved, it meant fewer changes moving forward.

4. Require that clients use a change request form.

Of course, changes are inevitable — but you don’t want to make it so simple for clients that they send along endless streams of requests. Instead, require them to fill out a change request form every time they wish to modify something. Be sure the form also includes a field asking the reason for the request so everyone is on the same page. Having a formal process in place will require the client to think more deeply about the change before it’s sent.

5. Be open for discussion as needed.

Sometimes, requests are a matter of the client not being able to settle on a font, color scheme or photo choices. Other times, however, you might have thoughts on why moving a call-to-action button is not the best idea, or why a requested change will make the site look too similar to a competitor’s. Or, you might just need some clarity about a request. Keeping the lines of communication open and sharing your expert thoughts from a design standpoint can help keep your goals aligned and develop a level of trust between you.

6. Keep the client in the loop.

Having a change request system in place is a great start, but frequent check-ins and status-update requests can disrupt your workflow. That’s why Nordin likes to let the client see what is currently being worked on. “If clients are able to view lists of current change requests that are being worked on,” he says, “it puts their minds at ease knowing things are being handled.”

7. Stand your ground.

If a few too many unofficial “tiny change” requests keep popping up in your email inbox, gently nudge the client toward the change-request process and remind him or her that revisions beyond the original agreement will be billed.

Ultimately, it’s in everyone’s best interests to keep design change requests from spiraling out of control. Spending time up front thinking through the site’s design, formalizing the change-request process and keeping communication open gives the site its best chance of being completed on schedule — and to everyone’s satisfaction.