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Don’t Forget These Five Critical Steps Before Sending a Design to a Client

Joe Darnell March 31, 2021 · 4 min read

A professional always dots her I’s and crosses her T’s. Designers are often their own proof-checkers and business managers as well, so they have a lot to cross and dot all on their own.
Don’t let the devil beat you in the details! If you are an independent designer, you most certainly should be prepared with these five steps prior to unveiling designs to your esteemed client.

1. Watermark Your Design

I’m proud of my work and I tend to work with clients that I know and trust. This solves a lot of potential problems, but I watermark anyway because other people that may get their hands on my designs shouldn’t be trusted.
Trust your clients, but remain skeptical of strangers that may happen across your handiwork. Watermark everything but the master copy.

2. Protect Your Designs

This is related to #1 but not the same. If you have a verbal agreement with your reputable client, it’s still important to put everything in writing. The ideal scenario is you have a contract up front, and if this is the case, then you’ll be ready to accept their final payment upon sending them your completed design. If you are sending finalized designs, now is the time to also bill them for the final payment.
If you sadly only have a verbal understanding on your project’s terms, you will need to write your copyright notice somewhere on the design. It can read like this: “Artwork © Joseph Darnell, All Rights Reserved.”
This helps avoid any doubt that you own the design in the development, so they won’t take your designs to some other maker for completion.

3. Name Your Files Clearly

Let there be no doubt what the artwork is intended for. I put the date at the beginning of all my digital design file names, like this: 2014-05-16. It’s a quick hint to clients that tells them if they have the latest version.
On occasion, professionals use abbreviations in file names, like FPO (For Position Only). Do you think that your average client who hires a designer to help them will know what FPO stands for? Heck, no. Try to avoid confusing abbreviations and designer jargon. Then tell the client that it’s FPO in your email, phone call, or face-to-face meet up.

4. Save for Web

Whether the finished design is purposed for the web, print, or video, I always save for web. You don’t want to crash your email client or theirs trying to send files over 20 MB.
Sometimes you do need to send huge files though. Design files can get way too large for email, or sometimes even the likes of Dropbox. That being said, trim off all the digital flab. If you can compress your file to a percentage of its original quality and can’t tell the difference, that’s awesome!
The only time you shouldn’t save for web is when you’re ready to finalize the master. The master should be formatted to best suit its use case.

5. Set Client Expectations When Possible

Be specific and share your plans with the client along the journey to the completed work. When I’m sending files to my clients, I don’t see every day, so I need to lay the grounds for the next step. I want them to know what’s unfinished, what I expect next from them; anything to keep the project’s goals set as our target.
In the end, you can never be too prepared, but you’ll never feel prepared, so just do your best and learn from your experience.

What Steps Do You Take?

Now that you’ve read my list of reminders, it’s your turn. What steps do you take before clicking ‘send’ on a design project?
Header photo by Paige Winn Photo


Joe Darnell has a special set of graphic design skills. He directs everything from websites to book covers to brand identities. As a lifelong tech fan, Joe spends his spare time screencasting at JoeDarnell.com. When he needs an espresso, he drinks Thrasher Coffee.

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About the Author
Author
Joe Darnell

Joe is a UI and graphic designer with prior experience as the creative director for three media-based businesses. He has a passion for both web design and graphic design with about 15 years of experience in the media industry. Joe likes delighting people and making ideas and things simpler for them.

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17 Comments
  • Great tips! Thanks for sharing. I might add that if there are linked files with the design, I'll always either embed them (if appropriate) or package them up with the main file. If I'm sending an InDesign file (which isn't often) I'll send a package with links, etc. Also, depending on the project, I'll convert text to outlines or send fonts (with an agreement on both ends to use them only for the project). 8 years ago
  • @Beth Rufener, great additions! I got my start as a print designer so packaging up all my artwork and outlining my text used to be a daily practice. I used Illustrator, which, at the time, had no "collect for output," but "ArtFiles" for Mac saved the day and made the entire process really simple. 8 years ago
  • Great tips, thanks for share.. 8 years ago
  • Great topic! If this is referring to *final* delivery of designs (rather than comps), then always get a fresh pair of eyes to proof. Never proof your own work. And then insist that the client do the same. Things have been super hectic for us lately, so I've added a new rule: whenever possible, let the material sit for at least 12 hours, and then look one more time before sending. Obviously not always possible, but that last, rested look can be priceless. I like @Beth Rufener's additions, too. 8 years ago
  • Haha @Penina Finger - Totally agree with you there. Sometimes when I'm stumped, and the design just isn't coming together, and I'm redesigning and redesigning, I'll sleep on it, as it were, and in the morning (or the next day) I'll find that it works for me after all. Having another person give feedback is of course worth quite a bit as well. 8 years ago
  • Love this post, great info... Thanks for sharing! 8 years ago
  • Good points all around, @Beth Rufener and @Penina Finger. If time allows for it, I’ll take a break from a design project for three days to regain a fresh perspective—approaching the end of the project cycle. 8 years ago
  • Great tips @Joe Darnell ! All tedious but necessary steps in the design process! @Penina Finger, I second your rule wholeheartedly! Thank you all! â–² 8 years ago
  • Anytime. 8 years ago
  • With logos, I always make sure I am perfectly happy with every option I send. I never put in designs which I'm not 100% happy with because guaranteed they will choose that one! 7 years ago
  • @sianyruss haha, I have found that to be the case for me as well. Some people just want to see the world burn, amiright? 7 years ago
  • You are so right!!!! Haha! 7 years ago
  • Awesome tips! If I can't be there to present face–to–face or over phone/Skype, I will record a short video of my screen (with my voice) detailing some of the design decisions and choices, while walking through the various parts of the design. This often helps elevate follow up questions like “Why did you make the tagline that size and color?” (bad example, but you know what I mean!) 7 years ago
  • Great article and I'm happy to see a lot of emphasis is placed on protecting your intellectual property. I hope this is not coming off as spammy, but I have a very useful service that allows designers to protect their copyright, build contracts and have them signed online, and fight against infringements. You can find it at http://myows.com and I welcome all feedback to improve. 7 years ago
  • This might sound pretty basic, but I always make sure that the files I want to send are actually attached to the email, are in the right resolution, etc. Particularly when exporting for different media channels (print, web) this is crucial. I know I can be a bit scatterbrained when it comes to that, and clients can get annoyed when it keeps happening.. I also like to let design ideas "rest and settle" over night, like @Beth Rufener, @Penina Finger and @Joe Darnell. Has saved me from a lot of headaches. I'm always surprised how much a good night's sleep can clarify. 7 years ago
  • Thanks for the information. I believe artists, designers, photographers wouldn't do without this info. Thanks! 7 years ago
  • Awesome tips 7 years ago