To stop ‘sign off’ you need to dig a little deeper

Sign-off. As Andy rightly points out in his recent post, it’s a thing that shouldn’t be part of the modern digital designer’s lexicon.

I totally agree, and in some cases this is the reality. But sadly it’s not always as clear cut or easy to just say ’no’.

The org I’m currently working with is proudly a few hundred years old. As such it’s quite set in its ways. It is trying — carefully — to embrace digital, but in certain situations those old practices, nomenclature and habits still exist. ‘Sign-off’ is still very much part of the everyday terminology round these parts.

Believe it or not there are orgs out there where digital design isn’t mature enough yet. We can’t choose to cast off archaic terms and declare them no longer fit for purpose. The idea of simply telling tens of stakeholders on an active project “sorry folks, sign-off won’t work anymore, we need input and feedback” is much easier said than done. In my limited experience with our current project, inviting more input and feedback is actually part of the problem, not the solution.

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Culture & Education

So what to do. This inevitably takes the conversation to culture.

If behaviour is borne out of routine and repetition, a company’s culture is a product of that learned behaviour.

If a precedent is set long ago and no one has yet bucked the trend, it will only continue. The routine of using terms and precedents like ‘sign-off’ are difficult to shift if no viable alternative is presented.

The culture of an organisation needs to start changing. It needs to learn how to embrace the new, long before terms like ‘sign off’ can be eradicated.

As designers we strive to design and create the best experience for our company’s customers. To do that we of course need to face the reality of getting buy-in from our stakeholders, to ensure our solution is addressing the needs of the business. In some way or another, that act of approval, buy-in, consent or whatever you want to call it still needs to happen. Yet in a contradictory manner, the actual term sign-off sets the wrong expectations. It counteracts the benefits of collaborative design, consistent stakeholder input and user-centred design.

Push the message

Whilst I completely agree with Andy’s assertion that we should just stop using ‘sign off’ as a term, the reality is stakeholders need better clarity on why it’s not productive. Stakeholders at change-resistant organisations like my current workplace need to be better educated to and informed of the repercussions and consequences of waterfall-esque sign off `events.

The truth is, many of today’s stakeholders think they ‘get’ digital, but they aren’t comfortable with bucking the trend and collaborating. Arguably they’re afraid to do this because they’ve yet to see evidence that re-arranging their meetings and calendars to sit with the design teams can result in better results and revenue-laden outcomes. Sadly, they instead see their sign-off phase as a lever of power; an opportunity to put their stamp of approval on something made by ‘those people in digital’. It’s this dynamic that needs to change.

Baby steps

Changing a company’s cultural behaviour isn’t done overnight. But changing, guiding and altering the perceptions and lexicon used by stakeholders should be the long game for digital designers.

To Andy’s point, stop using the term sign-off, but start explaining in simple, jargon-free terms how collaboration and input create better products. Educate. Provide an open house session, or lunch and learns, skill swaps or similar that better explain good working practices.

Just remember that removing the term ‘sign off’ from your lexicon is a start, but the bigger challenge is removing it from the lexicon of your organisation.

This article was originally posted on Medium