Revisions Run Amok

by Patricia Fitzgerald

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before. What are four words designers fear most? “That’s a great start.” This dreaded phrase is usually followed by a “but” and then a long list of changes.

We get it. Revisions come with the creative territory, and are every client’s prerogative. Delicate divas we’re not, so we’re more than happy to refine both copy and design until the client is happy with it. If that means doing five rounds, or 50 rounds, to get it there — sure, whatever it takes. We may lose all our hair in the process, but that’s price of perfection.

In reality, the price of perfection is a lot more than a few bald spots. As the adage goes, perfection is the enemy of progress, especially when it comes to getting effective marketing materials out the door and in front of your audience’s eyeballs.

But, revisions result in better creative work, right? That depends on how many there are, the nature of the changes, and the overall process. A multitude of changes sent sporadically by multiple stakeholders can have a detrimental impact on the quality and effectiveness of the end product as well as the timely completion and efficiency of the project. Let’s get into that a bit more.

More Revisions = More Time

Each round of revisions takes more time to complete than you likely think it will, especially when changes are being made to large and cumbersome design files that are slow to open and laborious to save. Keep in mind, too, that each revised version requires a whole new round of reviews — often by multiple people — which gums up the works even more.

On average, you can expect an added one to two days of work for each round of revisions. That means your marketing materials will be getting out to their intended audience later rather than sooner. Consider too that many agencies will charge extra for excess revisions, so in addition to taking longer your project could end up costing you more.

Fixing Errors, Or Making Them

It may sound counterintuitive, but with every round of revisions the likelihood of creating even more errors goes up. For each edit you make, there’s a chance that an unintentional mistake takes its place. Change the wording on this paragraph, and a typo sneaks in unnoticed. Increase the font size on that spread, and suddenly the pagination gets thrown off. Add a bullet point here, and the copy now runs off the bottom of the page.

After reviewing the same piece for the umpteenth time, eyes get weary, brains get fried, and mistakes can go uncaught and uncorrected. There’s also a chance that these new errors may make their way to the final piece and your audience’s attention.

Xerox of a Xerox

Know how when you make a copy of a copy, each iteration gets a little weaker? Eventually, you’re left with a barely legible, washed-out version of the original. The same can go for creative work. After so many rounds of revisions to the copy and design from so many different people, your piece can start to lose its original potency and clarity.

Overthinking can lead to overwriting and/or overdesigning, which can cloud messaging, blur the sharpness, and dilute the brand. Sometimes it’s good to go with your initial idea or instinct (trust your gut, in other words), and resist the urge to continually tinker and tweak until what originally worked no longer does.

Frustrating for Everyone

Let’s face it: having to review the same piece over and over again isn’t fun. In fact, it can be downright frustrating for all involved — client and creative. And it should be fun! After all, we’re creating something exciting, beautiful, inspiring, and needed, and we always want our clients to enjoy the process as much as we do. But by the time you’re on revision number 10 of the same piece you’ve been looking at for the past two months, all joy is gone.

Revisions Revised

We understand and embrace the need for revisions. We also know that revision overkill can, well, kill a marketing project (and everyone involved in it) before it has the chance to get out the door. So, we thought we’d offer up some practical suggestions that may help make the revision process vastly more efficient and less painful.

1. Fewer eyes. Revision by committee is a sure way to bring the project’s progress to a screeching halt. Instead, choose two or three people who have the authority and expertise to review and provide feedback to keep the number and rounds of revisions to a minimum.

2. First word. Making changes to copy in a design file can be cumbersome, time-consuming, and open the door to additional errors. To that end, review and make revisions to the copy in a Word doc first, and get that finalized and approved before moving to layout. 

3. Consolidate. Assign one person who is responsible for collecting, distilling, and consolidating all the must-make revisions into one well-organized document. Have that person be the single conduit for getting these changes to and from the creative team.

4. Specifics. Be as specific as possible with your feedback and edits. Vague input (“We don’t like the photos”) can make it harder to hit the mark, resulting in yet another round of revisions. Try to be clear on the changes you want (“Replace with photos of cute puppies”), so that the creative team will be more likely to get it right for the next round.

5. Be selective. There’s going to be a natural inclination for anyone who’s reviewing the piece to provide feedback and suggest changes. That doesn’t mean that every edit needs to be made. Decide whether the change really would make the piece better, or whether it’s fine the way it is.

6. Don’t delay. Provide feedback and edits to the creative team as soon as feasibly possible while the project is fresh in your mind. Waiting weeks or even months to review a piece and provide edits not only slows the process down, but can take the initial concept or message off track and in a completely different (and less effective) direction.

7. Trust the talent. Remember why you hired the creative team in the first place, and trust their recommendations when they push back on feedback or a requested revision. They’re not resisting out of laziness, but because their experience tells them it’s better without the change.

8. Call it. Have an end date and a reasonable round of revisions in mind for the project, and do everything you can to stick to it. Know when to call it a done deal, or you may end up getting stuck in a loop of endless edits that beget more edits.

We’re all about doing awesome work that the client can be proud of, we can be proud of, and the audience will respond too. But we also know we have deadlines to meet, budgets to adhere to, and sales teams clamoring for materials, like, now. When it comes to revisions, there’s a happy balance between making it better and making everyone crazy. Finding that balance is what we’re here for.

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