Looking back on my early years as a designer, I suppose I had it pretty good. I worked for an insurance company, and while there wasn’t a lot of creativity involved, I was never rushed on a design project. I’d heard of other designers pulling their hair out with the rumored “last-minute” design changes. But because I had never experienced it, I thought it was a rare situation.

Then I started working for my church.

The first time it happened, I thought, “I’m sure this is not normal.” And then it happened again. And again. Pretty soon, it seemed like every other project I worked on was subject to these dreaded last-minute changes. Revising designs that have already been finished or approved is not only stressful for the designer, but often costs the church money—primarily when the files are already in the process of being printed. Here are some of the practices I put in place that worked to help reduce the number of last-minute design changes I experienced.

Anticipate Changes Before They Happen

Yeah, you were hired to design, not to help ministries and church staff plan and prioritize. But in the end, we’re all working toward the same thing. So if you can make things easier for everyone, you should. Most of your fellow staff members don’t understand what goes into design or how long you require to work on a project. If you know a certain event is coming up, approach the ministry leader and give them an idea of when you’ll need to start working on the project. Having ample time to design and explore creative options up front often reduces changes at the end.

Most of your fellow staff members don’t understand what goes into design or how long you require to work on a project.

Another way I worked to reduce last-minute changes was to overstate the amount of time it would take to design and print. For example, our printer required a minimum of 5 business days to print most things. When I would tell a ministry that, I would receive changes right up until 5pm that day—or later. So instead, I extended it to 7 business days. Often I would get changes on that day, but then they were no longer as urgent as they would have been, since I now had a buffer.

One more practice I put in place was to become a better proofreader and fact checker. Many of the last-minute changes were things that could have been avoided altogether. They were mistakes in dates, times, contact information, and things like that. If I was able to point out these mistakes early in the design process, everyone was happier.

Many of the last-minute changes were things that could have been avoided altogether.

Easing the Pain of Last Minute Changes

Every designer has different standards of what constitutes a last-minute change. For some it’s any change that’s demanded right away, even when the project is still in progress. And for others it’s not until after the piece has gone to press. Even when you do everything you can to avoid them, last-minute changes are still going to happen sometimes.

Through the numerous times I’ve experienced this, I’ve found that good communication is the key to getting through these situations. Regardless of how you learn about the requested design change—email, text, or even Voxer—it’s best to have a face-to-face or telephone conversation with the ministry or staff member as soon as possible. At this stage in the process, you can’t afford to lose time with miscommunication. I’ve learned that this is the best way to figure out what’s going on and how you can resolve the situation. Also, if the revision just isn’t possible at that point, it’s always better to deliver that news in person.

Getting a design project past this roadblock is often a matter of using good judgment too. You know best how long it will take to make the edits and what you’ll have to put on hold in order to accommodate it. Is someone asking you to change the color scheme of a piece after if was approved just because they don’t like blue? Or have important event details changed requiring all the pieces to be updated? If the piece has already gone to print, will it require a fee to make changes? You’ll have to decide what’s possible and what’s important.

You’ve probably learned by now that being flexible is just as important as having good design skills. When last-minute changes arise, it’s often a good time to educate and collaborate with that particular staff member or ministry. Assure them that you have the same goal and you want them to succeed, but also give them a peek into what they are really asking of you. If the only way for their request to be handled is for you to give up your Friday night, let them know. Maybe there is another solution that you can come up with together.

When designers and ministries work together as a team with mutual respect, it makes last-minute changes a little easier to handle. These kinds of requests are simply part of working as a designer. Well, unless you work for an insurance company.