Understanding Revisions Part 1

The brilliant work of sculptor Antony Gormley seems strangely relevant here.

Something utterly strange happened to me Thursday at work —something I would characterize as a random unexpected occurrence which left me feeling a bit mystified.

A piece of creative I had worked on the week previous for a [unnamed] client’s ongoing digital marketing campaign, came back to our team with zero revisions—as in, don’t change a thing, it’s perfect.

My project manager was utterly floored, dripping with giddiness and laughter. “Wow!” he said, “you’ve done it”, [this is] “really awesome; fantastic work Darryl!” After my initial euphoria had subsided I thought to myself, hmm… this is a bit perplexing. I was actually anticipating one or two rounds of the usual rudimentary changes with this [unnamed] client—be it copy tweaks, colour, make the logo…ehem, you know…, or the commonly neglected trademark legal/copyright symbol addition. But nope, not on this day. In this particular case the client had given us 100% sign-off and approval on the creative work I had meticulously prepared early last week, much to my delight.
When this occurs—and it has happened to me several times before in the past—it’s a nice little boost for the old ego not to mention a boon for the project as a whole.

Maybe on this specific project, with this client, and these particular account executives, everything just magically clicked. Then I wonder, was this maybe just a freak instance—after all, it doesn’t happen all that often. Quite possibly on this occasion a looming deadline has forced the client’s hand into hastily approving creative to meet an overly-ambitious launch date. Or maybe, just maybe, on this day my creative was just bang-on! I don’t know.

While I’d love to think the ‘first-round-bang-on-creative-thing’ is my über-speciality, it’s not. And I’d be kidding myself for thinking I —or any other creative pro for that matter—could realistically expect to deliver such creative work to a client on a regular basis. Acceptance of creative/design solutions at face value, sans revisions, simply does not happen very often—if ever—in our industry.

Sooner or later we all inevitably encounter a project in which the revisions seem to spiral uncontrollably beyond our grasp, setting forth a path of destructive forces that conspire to undermine the integrity of our creative contributions. Amidst these unfortunate circumstances our once pure ideas and well-intentioned concepts are broken down into a series of fragmentary, less coherent elements.

If it sounds as though I’m dwelling on the subject of revisions, well no, this is actually the first time I’ve actually felt compelled to explore this topic at length on my blog. Truthfully I feel this is a subject worthy of critical discussion if we are to effectively manage the sometimes negative consequences revisions can have on our work.

In part 2 of this post I want to examine some of the tangible factors influencing project revisions—creative, technical or otherwise in nature. Like many other creatives, designers and developers, I am curious to understand what motivates the revision process and what we can do to mitigate the apparent side-effects.

So what do you think? Where do revisions come from? —lack of communication—a poorly written brief—politics—personal subjectivity? I would love to hear your thoughts.

3 thoughts on “Understanding Revisions Part 1

  1. Jon, yes I too have felt compelled on occasion to go back and tweak something that’s already been signed off on —certainly if I’ve slept on a creative problem or had additional time for ideation I’ll find something better was in fact quite possible.
    This would be fine if we all worked in complete isolation (e.g. an artist painting a self portrait), but in the context of a large project, tweaks can have unintended consequences for the other contributors.

    The best example I can think of would be changing a piece of my creative at the 11th hour, after a Web development team have invested significant time planning, coding and testing.
    A small creative tweak might have huge repercussions on the overall application architecture causing a rework of 100’s of lines of code.
    In these instances I try to put myself in the developer’s shoes: will these tweaks be minimally disruptive or will they cause complete havoc for the dev team?

  2. Do you ever find that quick approval on something actually throws off your plans? Sometimes after delivering round 1 of a specific project, I have a few ideas that I end up incorporating along with the specific revisions, to try to better answer the overall ask.

    At least once, a quick approval has thrown me off, because I still have the desire to tweak something that’s already been signed off on.

  3. A few more ideas:
    -too many voices with sign-off authority on a project.
    -key decision maker(s) leave in the middle of a project; a new team comes in with a different agenda/strategy.
    -budget slashed mid-project; deliverables re-defined.
    -revisions artificially imposed as a means to justify additional billings from client.

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