Is there a commonly used design specification system to present a graphic design to a customer before we start the implementation? My challenge is specifically on mailings (PDF A4, HTML sent per mail), but I am happy to hear any insight from other domains (web design, advertising, ...)

My goal is to present a document, that the customer could sign-off, and representing the actual design. Once the document is signed-off, we can start the implementation; and have very little risk that the customer is unhappy with the actual product; or request many changes afterwards.

Especially, I'm trying to avoid multiple round trips after implementation where the customer asks: "Can you move this box a bit to the left?", "Hum, can you move it a bit to the bottom?", "Can this image be a bit more blue?", "Hum, can this field be a bit larger?", "This works fine in GMail, but I'm not happy with Lotus Notes!"

I understand that iterative approaches, either billed as Time&Material, or with a capped effort, are probably better fit for that. (and if you use them, as a professional designer, please let me know too). Yet, in some projects, the customer needs a waterfall approach for some reasons. I'd like to know how to handle those cases best.

  • 4
    Using a highly detailed Creative Brief should ensure that everybody is on the same page.
    – Dom
    Jul 10, 2013 at 20:40
  • @Dominic interesting, I didn't know about this concept. My experience is that my customers are opiniated on the actual "look-and-feel" of the document, really often come with a mock-up, and leave us limited degrees of liberty in creativity. (We're not by essence a design company, but an IT company). By experience, they're more picky on items such as positioning within the page than anything else.
    – Gerard Yin
    Jul 10, 2013 at 21:15
  • 1
    If you can logically explain why something should/shouldn't be done, only a nutter can argue. On the other hand, if you can't, it's probably not necessary. Maybe you need to decide whether you want to be a point-and-click device for the client or a skilled consultant, as if they aren't listening to your opinion you're probably the former to them. Either one is fine, as you said you're in IT, a creative brief is far more useful for a skilled consultant. But, consider this hehe..
    – Dom
    Jul 10, 2013 at 21:26

2 Answers 2


You can't do Agile with print. There is no iteration. Once it's on press, it's on press.

However, the design process up to that point can be as iterative as you'd like. Be sure you are billing accordingly, of course.

Typically mock-ups are created (for print design, it may be as simple as color laser prints). At a certain point, you want the 'final' mock-ups signed off on.

Then it goes to pre-press, where there should be a 'proof' created that is essentially the mock-up, but actual size and actual color. This then needs to be checked by both the designer and the client. If that's OK, then that's your final document. Start the presses!

If we're talking digital design (email, web)...

Then my answer is quite a bit different. For web work, there is no such thing as a 'proof' as it's not a physical set-in-stone medium. As such, I strongly encourage to move AWAY from sign-off documents and instead adopt an Agile methodology. This can be a challenge given that so many clients and organizations are still familiar with the old water-fall models where sign-offs happened at very specific places along the way.

Investigate 'Lean UX' for some inspiration on how to work design into the agile model.

  • Apologies as my question may have been a bit misleading. There's no print involved (mailing is actually e-mailing). Anyway, my take away from your post is (1) adapt the billing to the effort (2) have a sign-off. That surely is a way to go. I've +1 your answer, it is certainly an approach I'll use whenever possible. Thanks for your time.
    – Gerard Yin
    Jul 10, 2013 at 21:03
  • @GerardYin oh! We're talking digital. I have an entirely different answer for that. I'll update my answer.
    – DA01
    Jul 10, 2013 at 22:23

After I read DA's great answer, and because I've been using Scrum (Agile) for web development and interface design, I wanted to share my experience for these two cases.

Because we do software, we work with Scrum Sprints. It took us a while to adjust the methodology to the design side of the process (the most difficult part for me was to calibrate the times, it's quite tricky to imagine how long something creative is supposed to take!).

What I do now is the following: I usually have one big backlog item for the UI. Tasks inside it go from research and mockups to review, execution and testing. In the practice, the mocking up usually means creating flat images and sharing them with the team. We have morning meetings every day, so we sometimes use those to discuss the proposals.

The discussing itself and the 'shape' it takes is not that important (emails, meetings), what's important is this: Once a task card is moved to the 'Done' column, it can't go back. If we need to make new changes, we create a new card in Unexpected, or leave it for the next Sprint. Everyone in the team got used to this, you don't move a card to Done until you are sure it's actually done (we keep a list of things to check before we move a card, just to make sure). If new features are added, or things need to be re-thought, instructions are added to the backlog and we choose the best time to do them.

Now, this is probably not something you can actually do with individual clients, so my answer is limited to a different scenario (unless you can train your clients in Scrum, and they can have access to the Tasks board!). For individual clients, I think clear communication and a good contract that will protect you from endless modifications is the best approach you can take.

  • Very interesting. That surely is an approach we could use with some customers. Thanks for taking the time to explain your way of doing. I've +1 your answer.
    – Gerard Yin
    Jul 10, 2013 at 21:04

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