‘Unlimited changes’ demand sparks outrage in Singapore, but is there a deeper problem?

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ON February 15, designer Kelly Cheng posted a tender document for a project on Facebook. In it, Whitley Secondary School asked that designers agree to provide an unlimited number of revisions.

This led to an outpouring of indignation and ridicule. Some commenters suggested they offer an unlimited budget to go along with the impossible demands. One pointed out that even in buffets there is a time limit and one said even prostitutes either charge by the hour or per person.

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Multiple Demands for Unlimited Changes for Design Services on Gebiz. As a designer, I Protest, Do you? Please share this post if you are against Unlimited Changes – Be the Change you want to see in the world.

Posted by Kelley Cheng on Sunday, February 14, 2016

As the Facebook post went viral, netizens generally agreed that designers do not pluck ideas out of thin air and they should not have to work for free. Unreasonable conditions like those offered by Whitley Secondary were an insult on the decency of all humanity.

Justified as the indignation may be, 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.

It is not unusual for a design firm to seek to entice customers with impossible promises. For instance, Joe Donnelly Design promises to keep revising its designers until the customer is a 100% satisfied. The offer is unlimited—they will do as many revisions as necessary.

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 percent satisfaction is met with the promise that customers can “request as many changes as you want until you are fully satisfied.”

The point here is not that these firms present a substantial threat to established designers, but that their widespread existence in an open market represents a sufficiently serious problem that warrants attention. Indeed, many designers who responded to Ms Cheng’s post also suggested that they had encountered similar demands.

If the promise to provide unlimited revisions is absurd, it is no crazier than the guarantee of 100 percent satisfaction. After all, the promise of unlimited revisions logically follows from the guarantee of 100 percent 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. Collaboration is difficult when thousands are involved and no easy way to communicate exists (save viral posts). And even if there is some initial success, there is nothing to guarantee it becomes an industry norm.

Perhaps, a longer lasting solution might have to involve educating 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.”

We have, it seems, chosen to rely on the state to temper the unrealistic expectations of schools without asking why the problem exists. Has Facebook once again foreclosed discussion by serving as too efficient a means for indignation?

In a follow up Facebook note, Ms Cheng said: “Another issue that i hope we could collectively look into is – from personal experience and a few comments i have read so far, is the constant request for working files and the surrendering of all our IP rights to all the works that we produced. The bad thing is that sometimes this might result in the client mis-using our works by engaging a different contractor to change our design, and this, to many designers, really hurts a lot. Imagine you compose a piece of music and someone takes your score and started to change selected notes to their whim and fancy. The protection of designer’s IP rights is something close to the hearts of the design community as well.”

Ms Cheng wants the discussion to go further, particularly in the area of a designer’s intellectual property rights, but so far it has seemed unlikely that she will be able to repeat her initial success.

Perhaps the issue is too far removed from the our daily experiences. Or perhaps anything more than fifty words may just be too long for Facebook.

This is a modified version of a commentary that first appeared on The Online Citizen.

The post ‘Unlimited changes’ demand sparks outrage in Singapore, but is there a deeper problem? appeared first on Asian Correspondent.

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