Design Basics: Help! My Pastor Pushed Me Down the Revision Rabbit Hole

Design Basics: Help! My Pastor Pushed Me Down the Revision Rabbit Hole

February 10, 2014 by

Alice’s famed tumble into Wonderland landed her in a conversation with the Cheshire Cat. She asked, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

The cat’s reply was sensible: “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”

Alice’s was less careful: “I don’t much care where,” she countered.

The cat’s response, “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” is as true in our world as it was in Wonderland.

Conversations between designers and non-designers (whether they be pastors, ministry leaders, senior staff or others) often get hung up on a similar question: Where do we want to go? Answering the question of destination is almost never simple and can leave us feeling like we’ve arrived in an alternate universe where we have strange conversations with people we don’t understand!

When a non-designer has a design destination in mind, they need to communicate where they want to go. This isn’t simple. Either they aren’t sure about where they want to go, or they may not know how to put it into words. Either way, since designers aren’t mind readers, finding the way to the destination can be tricky.

Here’s how this scenario often plays out: You are asked to design something. So you design away. You present your concept. The non-designers ask you to make a tweak. “Sure,” you say. Repeat. Repeat again. And again… That’s about when you scream, “Enough already!”

Sound familiar?

Graphic Design Requires a Map
This is where we all could use a map. By “map” I mean boundaries that determine the path we take on the journey from concept to completion. Good boundaries prevent you from getting sucked into rabbit holes where revisions multiply ad infinitum.

A few years back a campus minister asked our designer to create a logo for a small coffee bistro in a new building. We met to talk concepts and then provided three comps. They weren’t what the campus minister wanted. Fast forward a few weeks and nearly a dozen revisions later. Blood was boiling and tweak requests were still coming. Uhg!

Through that frustration we had an “aha!” moment.

We came to realize we had a problem, and it wasn’t the comps we created or the person wanting changes. Our problem was caused by a person who didn’t get design and didn’t know how to answer the “where” question—but that’s not their fault. This situation happened because we hadn’t taken the time to develop a map to define our design process.

The answers to these questions became our map:

  • How many initial concepts will we provide?
  • What happens if none of the comps are accepted?
  • How many revisions will we allow?
  • Who holds the decision authority?

Answering these questions helped us set boundaries and establish a consistent review process where everyone knew the path and what to expect. In Boundaries for Leaders, Dr. Henry Cloud advises, “Good boundaries, both those that help us manage ourselves and lead others, always produce freedom not control.”  Boundaries set us free to get things done, to arrive at our destination, on time and with a quality design to boot.

Here’s how we answered these questions:

Getting Started
We provide three initial concepts unless we have an example to follow or a very simple project. If none of the original three comps are accepted, our next step is to probe likes and dislikes.  Capturing this information allows us to take those elements into the fourth and final comp. Only rarely do we need a fourth comp. Most often one of the three designs captures the attention of the person making the request.

Making Revisions
We typically have three reviews. Proofing and editing is mostly completed within two passes.  The third review is finalizing publication approval. The reviews go like this:

First Review:

  • Select design comp and provide input on layout and content placement.

Second Review:

  • View completed design with content and provide edits to content.
  • Confirm design changes have been completed from the first review.

Third Review:

  • Verify edits are completed and confirm publication is press/web ready.
  • Any missed edits or design tweaks previously requested should also be pointed out.  Otherwise, no new design tweaks are accepted.

Decision Authority
The design team holds final decision authority for all publications. Our designers are expected to come with a heart that desires to say “yes” whenever possible, but there are some requests that should not be allowed.  The person making the design request has significant “input authority” in the process, and we give significant consideration to their contributions.

Learning From Mistakes
I’m sorry to say the logo design for that bistro I mentioned earlier didn’t end well. We never did meet the expectations and ended up closing down the project. But we learned that good boundaries help all of us get to our destination. We learned that defining our design process helps everyone know what to expect and also results in less frustration. Today, almost all of our designs are delivered with designers and ministry clients happy with the final product.

What experiences have you had with good (or bad) design processes at your church?

Post By:

Gerry True

Gerry True serves as the communication arts pastor at Oak Hills Church where he currently leads four teams of artists who use their creativity in communication, production, worship and technical arts. He lives in San Antonio, Texas, with his beautiful wife Karen and two delightful leaders-in-the-making kids, and you can follow him on Twitter at @GerryTrue.
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4 Responses to “Design Basics: Help! My Pastor Pushed Me Down the Revision Rabbit Hole”

  • Steven Fogg
    February 13, 2014

    Great post Gerry,

    I find even with a design process and a creative brief that some just want you to create an visual outcome they have already conceived in their own mind. It’s challenging having come from a design background (20 years) of dealing with Marcomm’s who give you much more trust and latitude. They understand your skill base. Sometimes it can feel like one is just a finished artist (remember them?).

    I try have strong boundaries and can probably be taught how to take control in a better way :-) Always learning!

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    • Gerry True
      February 23, 2014

      Thanks Steven!

      We run into the same thing. No matter how hard we try to set the design process up for smooth sailing we still run into rough waves occasionally. Usually it is with people who have never been through the process with us. But we are learning that it is never good to dance around the issue. As long as we are attacking the issue and not each other, tough-minded and tenderhearted conversations help to smooth things out and are good. Some people will always have a hard time letting others handle what is close to their hearts even when it is outside of their skill.

      Thanks for sharing. I wish boundaries led to a perfect world. But since they don’t, we can all keep learning. :-)

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  • michelle
    April 15, 2014

    We are in a stalemate currently with a logo/branding project for our church. Its so difficult when we do not have an idea of what the project should look like. We have emailed and talked with a designer, trying to help him “know” our church and then hoping it will translate via a few emails and phone calls into an art piece that projects our message. So far its a very expensive and disappointing process. :/

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    • Gerry True
      April 17, 2014


      I am sorry progress has been frustrating. It is a daunting task navigating the branding process even when you have a great designer who already knows your church well. I feel your frustration in what you have shared and want you to know we will be praying for you. If we can help in any way by answering a question or helping provide advice on how to move forward, please let us know. I am confident there are many who have lived what you are going through and those experiences may provide some helpful insight.

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