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Unlimited revisions: Old problem, new disguise, easy solutions

Designers do not pluck ideas out of thin air and they should not have to work for free. That much has been established over the past few days as indignation poured forth over a tender document that repeatedly demanded unlimited changes.

But the practice of asking for unlimited changes is not new, and neither is the equivalent practice of designers offering to spoil the market with the promise to revise a piece of work until the customer is 100% satisfied.

A quick search reveals several design firms (not local) continuing the hallowed tradition of enticing customers with impossible promises. For instance, Joe Donnelly Design promises:

At Joe Donnelly Design we believe that your satisfaction is our ultimate goal. As such, we’ll keep revising your designs until you are completely happy.

So exactly how many is unlimited? We will endeavor to produce as many unique concepts or revisions as necessary. We won’t stop until you’re 100% satisfied.

Likewise, The Logo Company offers “free revisions and redraws so you have full peace of mind.” As for Branded Logo Designs, the guarantee of 100% satisfaction is met with the promise that customers can “request as many changes as you want until you are fully satisfied.”

If the promise to provide unlimited revisions is absurd, it is no crazier than the guarantee of 100% satisfaction. After all, the promise of unlimited revisions logically follows from the guarantee of 100% satisfaction. One guarantee makes the other promise necessary.

The design industry is not unique in providing absolute guarantees. After all, what use is a guarantee if it isn’t absolute? Retailers who put up money back guarantee signs or attorneys who exclaim “no win, no fee” are but variations of the designer who offers unlimited revisions.

Of course, no guarantee is absolute and limitations are frequently imposed, if not in the fine print, then by the reality that design firms and retail shops can go out of business. Designers who receive too many requests for revisions may also opt to provide a full refund instead. Likewise, retailers may include an exclusionary clause to their guarantee and refuse to refund goods if the customer “simply changes his mind”.

So why are such guarantees so prevalent then? One possible explanation is that customers experience a heightened sense of anxiety with dealing with unfamiliar people over an impersonal medium like the internet. Guarantees then help to reduce the amount of unknowns in the equation and give them a sense of security. Seen in this light, guarantees are only an evil if they are abused. Businesses that offer such guarantees only suffer if these abuses bring them more trouble than their guarantees bring them profits. So offering guarantees are not necessarily a bad practice, especially if they can be abrogated by calling the deal off entirely and offering a refund.

But what happens if every designer were to offer unlimited designs? Such guarantees no longer allow one to stand out from the crowd and customers will begin demanding it as a norm. As a result, everyone loses except the customers.

The situation may very well have progressed to this state if not for the Kelley Chang’s viral Facebook post which has been shared more than 2,000 times and replicated on every respectable website capable of recognising news when they see one. The prisoner’s dilemma has been avoided thanks to a simple combination of instantaneous communication and public shaming. Indignation meets Facebook. How dare they!

Yet, the solution is surely only a temporary one. Collusion is difficult enough among three-fat-pigs, what more thousands?

Perhaps, a longer lasting solution might lie in convincing customers that such guarantees are in fact not something they really want. It may be counterintuitive to reject freebies but one need only realise that the guarantee is in fact not a free one.

As many an astute designer and their newfound supporters have pointed out, no self-respecting designer will answer a customer’s every beck and call, and produce a million trashy designs. Since no self-respecting designer is a good designer, why waste each other’s time? Better to find one who can get it right the first time. And if more than a dozen revisions need to be made, perhaps it’s time to find a better designer or check if your fickle-mindedness and poor communication skills may be the problem. Kudos to the one who can say all of this to a customer without jeopardising the relationship.

In the alternative, we may simply appeal to the authorities and hope, as Ms Cheng does, “that this issue can be resolved in a positive and peaceful manner.”

As it turns out, the Ministry of Finance “agrees that it is unfair to expect the suppliers to agree to unlimited changes.” It will “issue a circular to remind all government agencies of standing procurement principles, which includes ensuring that all procurement specifications are reasonable and fair.”

Too easy?