Have you ever noticed that clients and even work colleagues seem to find a spelling error, an extra space after a period or a word that was left out of a sentence AFTER your artwork has returned from the printer? Frustrating, isn’t it? While clients or work colleagues may look at your project and reply, “Looks good” before it goes to print, but if it returns with an error you know that the lion’s share of the blame will fall right on top of your head.
Why does this happen? More importantly, how you stop having getting all the blame when a project isn’t perfect?
This is really all about expectations and accountability of your clients and colleagues. When it comes to your project; they don’t have either. For example, let’s suppose you’ve triumphantly finished a six-panel, two-color brochure for a client. In your email over to her you write, “Hi Debbie, I’ve attached the brochure for you. Check it out and let me know if you’d like me to change anything.” It sounds good, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s not. In fact, the verbiage and tone of the email places ALL of the responsibility for the accuracy of the project squarely on your shoulders. This example email does a poor job of assigning expectations and accountability to your client.
Let’s look at the same scenario, but this time we will shift some the expectations and accountability on to Debbie, your client. “Hi Debbie, I’ve attached the brochure for you. Before we send it to print, I’ll ask you to give it a review one last time. Please take a few moments and review the brochure carefully. If you find something that needs corrected (spelling, grammar, punctuation, layout, colors, etc.), please let me know and we’ll get it changed before it goes to print. If you approve the brochure, simply reply to this email with ‘Okay to print.’ Once I review your approval, I’ll send it off to the printer and we’ll be on our way!”
See the difference? The second email shifts some of the expectations and accountability on to Debbie, the client. Words like review, last time, corrected, spelling, changed, review, and the all important phrase – approval. Upon receiving this email, Debbie knows that she’s going to be held responsible for the accuracy of the project as well, which means, if she’s smart, she’ll invest a little more time and effort into reviewing the brochure than if you just asked her to “check it over.”
One last but important point note for you: be careful about the language and tone you use when asking clients or colleagues to sign off on a project. Notice that the example directly above has casual, friendly language; this was done intentionally. Beyond having your client taking none of the expectations and accountability for the project, the worst thing you can do is scare the hell out of them by sending an email like this, “Hi Debbie, I’ve attached the brochure for you. Before we send it to print, you to approve and officially sign off on the brochure – just in case there are any mistakes. If you find any problems or errors please let me know. If you don’t find anything, please respond to this email by indicating ‘I have fully reviewed all design and content aspects of this brochure; I officially approve it to go to print, and I accept any responsibility if an error is found after the project has gone to print.’” Sending an email like this will send your client into a needless panic. Use whatever verbiage feels best to you, but try to keep your tone professional yet pleasant and polite, after all, you’re designing projects not defusing bombs.
So the key to this working is to get your client or colleague to understand that she/he is involved and at least partly responsible for the accuracy of the project before it’s delivered (printed or uploaded). I know that in the real-world there are times when your clients and colleagues will pressure you to get the project out as fast as possible. They’ll say things like, “We just need to get this to the printer ASAP, so do whatever you have to do.” Don’t get suckered into this. If ANYTHING is wrong with the project, you will get the full blame. Respond to pushy clients and colleagues with, “I know we’re in a rush with this
project; however, before I send it to print I’ll ask you review it and give me a final ‘Okay to print’ return email. Once I receive your sign off, we’ll get this to the printer ASAP. To avoid losses in time and money we want to make sure we’ve got the project the way we want it on the first try, wouldn’t you agree?”
Before your project goes to the point of no return, at least the point of no return without a load of time and money expense to fix it, make sure you spread the expectations and accountability for the project’s accuracy around (consider getting multiple people to sign off on it). If you don’t you’ll be like a tightrope walker working without a safety net: if something goes wrong, you’re going to ‘go splat.’