Any design you see online does not start as a finished product. From sketching to detailing, it goes through multiple iterations, low-fidelity, and high-fidelity designing, and stringent reviews that ensure compliance with brand guidelines. It gets the chance to see the light only when the design head or the creative leader gives their consent.

This best explains what a design approval process is all about. It is an intricate process where an idea is given shape and form and finally approved to be presented along with other brand creatives.

From startups to enterprises, a design approval process helps streamline how designs are created and published. It ensures proper accountability and ownership of roles and responsibilities throughout the journey from idea to finished product.

Sounds vague? Let’s take a closer look at how a design approval process works and how you can simplify it so that your design never gets stuck in a quagmire of reviews and reiterations.

Understanding the Design Approval Process

Design approval can be described as the process of key decision-makers like senior leaders, design managers, creative leaders, etc., reviewing and accepting design ideas, layouts, and prototypes. Depending on the project's importance and the creative's positioning, like a website UI or a brand billboard in Centre Square, the level of stakeholder participation in review will vary significantly.

It's a crucial and unavoidable step to make sure the design meets specific business goals. For example, a website UI should make navigation easier and improve user experience. A physical billboard used for advertising should garner attention of maximum eyeballs.

Inevitably, this creative collaboration is a long process that can lead to project delays if there is no proper design approval process.

Can these project delays be avoided? Certainly. Here are some pointers that can help.

  • Clear roadmap: A structured design process provides a well-defined path from concept to completion, guaranteeing that every stage is systematically addressed.
  • Effective communication: A proper design approval process promotes better communication among team members and stakeholders who are active participants in the review process. It ensures accountability for who should deliver designs and who should review them within stipulated time frames.
  • Thorough evaluation: The structured approach allows for comprehensive evaluation at each stage. If possible create a checklist of items to be evaluated at stage of the design (as it matures from low-fidelity to high-fidelity) so that the evaluation is thorough and as complete as it could be.
  • Iteration: As feedback from multiple reviews gets incorporated, file names, versions, and even ideas can go for a major change. To ensure proper tracking, use a proper file naming hierarchy, a folder structure, and also file metadata to avoid using wrong file versions in the final design.
  • Efficiency boost: A structured design approval process enhances efficiency by minimizing confusion. It avoids unnecessary backtracking and streamlines workflows.
  • Error reduction: A systematic approach helps identify and rectify errors early in the process. It prevents them from escalating, which ultimately leads to more successful outcomes.
  • Satisfying designs: By adhering to a structured design approval process, the possibility of achieving designs that meet or exceed project goals is increased. It results in more satisfying outcomes.

Stages in the Design Approval Process

Now, let's understand the five stages involved in the design approval process:

Stage 1: Conceptualization

During this phase, you gather information and brainstorm to set a clear direction for your design. This involves research, understanding your audience, and defining your design goals. Here, you create visual aids such as sketches and mood boards to explore ideas and refine concepts.

For your website design, you might use surveys and interviews to grasp user needs and study competitor sites for valuable insights.

Once your research is done, you sketch layouts, experiment with colors, and explore typography. Use visual representations, if required, to better communicate your creative vision to clients or stakeholders.

Stage 2: Initial design draft

In the second step of design approval, share your initial draft with the review team and the department supervisor. Be clear on who needs to be part of this – different projects may involve different stakeholders at various points.

After making an approval request form, share your designs through the design review platform or a digital asset management system to streamline the process.

Stage 3: Review and feedback

To gather feedback, use email or, better yet, a dedicated design feedback tool. Sending approval requests through email can lead to confusion with crossed wires, multiple email threads, and missed changes. It's a bit messy. Using a dedicated digital asset management system that doubles up as storage and also for sharing feedback would be ideal.

It allows for accessing the files via browser and sharing feedback that can be seen in real time. This way, you know exactly what changes need to be made to move the creative closer to approval.

Stage 4: Iteration and revisions

In this stage, you polish the design, making needed adjustments and improvements. You look at the design from different angles, consider feedback from clients or colleagues, and fix any potential problems.

During this stage, focus on the smallest details to ensure the design looks good, works well, and matches the initial goals. Also, run usability tests and collect user feedback to check the design's effectiveness. The goal is continuous refinement based on feedback and test results, aiming for the highest standards of quality and user satisfaction.

In print design, pay close attention to color choices, typography, and spacing to ensure readability and visual harmony. You may also work with printers or production teams to ensure the final output meets the specified requirements.

Stage 5: Final approval

In the final phase, you seek consensus and sign-off from design managers and stakeholders, making sure everyone is on board with the finished design. Before the project goes live, ensure that every team member officially signs off on the final design. This step is essential to wrapping up the project and bringing it to closure.

Common Challenges in the Design Approval Process

From the above, it may seem that the design approval process is linear and progresses smoothly. However, this is far from the truth. A design approval process is never linear. It will encounter several roadblocks and deviations, which are caused either by internal factors or external influences.

Let’s examine the common challenges involved in the design approval process and explore the best way to solve them.

Miscommunication between stakeholders and designers

Lack of clear communication between designers, stakeholders, and reviewers can lead to misunderstandings about design objectives, feedback, and expectations.

Solution: Clear Communication

Set up dedicated channels of communication between designers, reviewers and stakeholders. Before kickstarting the review process, set expectations of objective and feedback timelines to ensure consensus.

Involvement of several decision-makers

Design is subjective, and different reviewers might have a different take on the same creative, leading to conflicts about aesthetics, functionality, or brand representation. Perhaps, this is one of the biggest bottlenecks in running a smooth design approval process.

Solution: Define Criteria for Approval

Establish clear criteria for design approval, including factors such as brand alignment, usability, and target audience satisfaction. This helps mitigate subjective opinions and provides a framework for evaluating designs objectively.

Time constraints or unrealistic timelines

Unrealistic timelines that do not give enough time for creative thinking and brainstorming will pressurize designers. It will force them to rush the deliverables, leading to incomplete revisions, overlooked feedback, or compromised quality.

Solution: Set Realistic Timelines

Establish realistic timelines that allow for thorough review and iteration while still meeting project deadlines. Communicate these timelines to all stakeholders upfront to manage expectations and avoid rushed approvals.

Too many revisions causing iteration fatigue

Continuous revisions without clear direction or feedback can result in frustration and fatigue for both designers and stakeholders, hindering progress and creativity.

Solution: Regular Check-ins and Updates

Schedule regular check-ins and progress updates with stakeholders to ensure alignment throughout the design process. This helps identify potential issues early and allows for course corrections without leading to unnecessary interactions.

Unclear decision-making hierarchy

Unclear decision-making processes and hierarchical structures within organizations can cause delays as approvals need to pass through multiple layers of authority.

Solution: Establish Decision-Making Protocols

Define clear decision-making protocols and hierarchy within the organization to streamline the approval process. Identify key decision-makers and establish protocols for resolving disagreements or conflicting feedback.

Limited design tools and resources

Limitations in technology or software compatibility may restrict the ability to implement certain design elements or revisions, causing delays or compromises in the final product.

Solution: Use Digital Asset Management tools

Implement digital asset management tools and platforms that facilitate easy asset organization/search, review, and version control.

Managing and organizing feedback centrally

Managing and organizing feedback from multiple stakeholders can be challenging, especially when it's scattered across different communication channels or lacks specificity.

Solution: Foster a Culture of Feedback

Encourage a culture of constructive feedback within the organization, where stakeholders feel empowered to share their opinions and ideas openly. Provide training and resources to help stakeholders give and receive feedback effectively.

We touched upon the need for a Digital Asset Management tool at several points. Here is why it can be a crucial tool in your design approval process toolkit.

Digital Asset Management Solution - A Single Tool for Effective Design Collaboration

DAM systems function as centralised hubs akin to well-organised digital libraries. They offer a robust solution for storing, organising, and managing an organisation’s creative assets, mainly – videos and images. Utilising a DAM solution like Imagekit can significantly enhance your design approval process. Here's how:

Centralised cloud storage of digital assets

Bid farewell to the disarray of scattered files across diverse devices and locations. A Digital Asset Management tool consolidates every creative asset of an organisation into a singular and accessible cloud-based digital asset storage.

It removes confusion and optimises efficiency by eliminating the need to spend valuable time searching for the right files. By utilizing centralized cloud storage, every member of your team gains seamless access to the complete asset library, irrespective of their location or project. This accessibility enhances collaboration, speeds up workflow efficiency, and reduces the potential risks linked with dispersed or duplicated assets.

Easier and real-time retrieval of digital assets

Imagine having a magical assistant who instantly finds what you're looking for. That's the kind of time-saving magic efficient retrieval brings. Finding specific assets is no longer a time-consuming task. DAM empowers users with advanced file search tools and intuitive file folder organisation options, allowing them to locate the exact files they need quickly. No more digging through folders – just quick and easy.

Streamlined version control

Asset versioning eliminates the risk of using outdated or incorrect assets. DAM automatically tracks all changes and iterations, ensuring everyone has access to the most recent and approved version for each project.

Access control

DAM systems help establish granular access control, granting permissions only to authorised individuals, safeguarding sensitive information and upholding brand guidelines. This is key to ensuring that external stakeholders are granted access to specific media libraries and folders and not to the complete brand library of digital assets.

Brand consistency

DAM is a central repository for approved assets and brand guidelines, guaranteeing everyone has access to the latest resources and adheres to the established brand identity.

The Bottom Line

A well-structured design approval process helps accelerate design approvals and publish creatives at scale and pace. It also eliminates iteration fatigue, miscommunication, and several other challenges that can otherwise derail a successful project implementation.

A DAM system can be a critical tool that can facilitate the same. It is a valuable tool for managing and refining your design approval workflows. ImageKit is one of the best digital asset management tools that can solve your design approval and digital asset management challenges.

From real-time communication to intuitive task management features, this robust digital asset management solution offers a complete package to streamline the design approval process, ensuring faster turnarounds.

Sign up for ImageKit and learn how it can put your design approval process on the fast lane.