As a full stack developer for hire I have created dozens of websites for a wide array of clients. I'm continually trying to refine my process and have noticed the biggest waste of time is design due to customer input.

With earlier projects this would mean actually changing the html/css as their suggestions came in, but I've since changed to trying to nail down a design document (psd) before I start writing any code. However, this still means I'm wasting entirely too much time going back and forth on what designs they like and do not like.

Is this an inevitable truth? What steps, if any, can I take to prevent the constant re-hashing of minor design details?

  • jobs where the details have not been specified and/or not signed off by all the 'interested parties' result in a constantly changing product, where you will wind up spending all your time implementing changes rather than implementing and testing the product. I.E. get clients signature (at least) on the UI pages, including the action/color/sizing of each item on each page. Then you implement per that document. When they want changes, the client must submit 'change requests' and you charge them for each change request document item. Once they signoff, changes are not free Feb 2, 2017 at 19:02

4 Answers 4


Directed Choices.

Most clients I experience want to feel as though they have input into how things look. I think that's just human nature. The key for me has been to always provide directed choices rather than open-ended questions.

What this means in rather than:

"What color do you want it?"
"How do you think it should look?"

You ask something along the lines of:

"Do you want that blue or green?"
"Do you prefer the way button A looks or button B?"

This may seem like a very minor thing, but it's not. You are limiting the input from the client without them directly realizing it. This helps the client feel vested and involved because they are making choices. But, in turn, it greatly lightens the load on you because you are limiting the scope of choices available.

The same philosophy works for just about any design element. You just have to ask the questions the right way.

  • Do you want that a serif or sans serif font?
    • NOT "What font do you want to use"
  • Do you want the background to be an image or solid color?
    • NOT "What should the background look like?"
  • Ok, which image [this one] or [this one]?
    • NOT "What kind of image do you want?"
  • Do you prefer the types size in A or B?
    • NOT "What types size should I use?"

Truth is, even using this method, you're almost always going to run into that one client that just sucks up your time by being indecisive and wanting constant changes. In those instances, I politely explain that a choice has to be made and stuck to otherwise I'm wasting too much time reworking things I thought were complete.

I'm odd in that I do not limit client revisions in my contracts. I've always been of the mindset that I'd rather have a satisfied client than one that left angry because they reached a revision limit and didn't get what they wanted. I've never really been bitten by this practice. Sure I may need to do a couple extra rounds of revisions for a client, but they leave happy and willing to return to me for more work. Which ultimately means I don't care about the extra revisions.

Many professionals do limit revisions though. So if that model works for you, have at it.

  • 100% agree on directing the client on predefined options, I always do that too to avoid things like paragraphs in Cominc Sans or Shelley, red text over blue backgrounds, etc. About the revisions limit, I make the client know that there are 3 free revisions (so he understands that I can't spend my days making free edits and changes for him), but I always do more revisions for free, almost never bill for that extra, unless for example cases like once that I made 14 different versions of a web template because of an unstable client. But is very rare.
    – Mario
    Oct 20, 2016 at 7:01
  • I completely agree - though I would add a contract clause to say that once a design has been signed off, then any further changes to it would incur additional charges. This gives you the possibility to charge if they later change their mind and code has already been written.
    – lon124
    Oct 20, 2016 at 12:51
  • @freelance-survivor I feel like by stipulating that once we move past design it's going to cost you to make changes will make them even more scrutinizing and less likely to sign off? Oct 26, 2016 at 12:48
  • @stackoverfloweth I would say more scrutinizing clients are a good thing - you want to encourage clients to take sign-off seriously and bring up problems with the design early on in the process. There is no point if they only take a quick glance and say 'yes' without thinking it through.
    – lon124
    Dec 5, 2016 at 7:38

I would suggest adding language to your contract specifying how many design revisions will be allowed, free-of-charge. Be frank with your client when discussing this part of the contract and tell them the reason the clause is there is because in the past an inordinate amount of time has been wasted (on both sides) re-hashing minor design details.

When you make it clear to the client there will be a limited number of revisions, they should take the revisions more seriously. However, if you acquiesce whenever the client wants to make changes, they have no incentive to limit the number of modifications.


It's very important that you talk very well with your client, before starting to work, to understand as much as possible what he expects to see in his web site. This is a crucial part that when well done will save you from hours of pointless work.

Write a sketch on paper togheter with the client, that represent the layout and decide the colors, when done make it clear with the client that the design was decided togheter and it is approved, verbally or signing the paper for approval.

Then add to your contract that after the meeting you will send a detailed draft or mockup, and then up to 3 minor revisions are free and the rest is hourly billable. That doesen't mean that you are going to bill any little detail that is asked to you, you can make further edits for free, but the client understand that it is a work that takes time and efforts, and also you are covered in the case of a a very picky undecided client.

Just don't let the client make you guess the design, he could say no to all your proposal. If you spend 30 minutes or 1 hour talking to him to go deep into the design and decide togheter what to do and how, he will not have many chances to change a lot unless going against the taken decisions.

If he wants a completely different design you can ask a deposit to restart the process from scratch.


Use themes. Present 3-4 themes each with minimal differences. Depending on the kind of client you may or may not be able to get away with it.

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