Changelogs for President: On Keeping Detailed Notes and Updates
Updated: Feb 2
Every project needs solid changelogs and notes. Graphic artists, writers, editors, videographers, photographers, everyone in the creative field need to keep high quality notes for their own sanity and as a helpful guide for their clients.
From Wikipedia's definition:
A changelog is a log or record of all notable changes made to a project. The project is often a website or software project, and the changelog usually includes records of changes such as bug fixes, new features, etc. Some open-source projects include a changelog as one of the top-level files in their distribution.
So why does this matter to copywriters, graphic designers, and videographers? Because your clients request changes and revisions all the time. Keeping record of all of these changes can save everyone time and potentially save your ass in the future if you need to pull up receipts after getting thrown under the bus, or just if you revisit the project in the future and understand what you were doing. Whether you and the client retain the same notes isn't important, you may prefer to keep more detailed notes stating all changes and send the client a curated list so as to not just dump a wall of text on them. They don't have to be overly-complicated.
If you receive a change request, when you complete the desired change, list it in the communication channel in which you send the updated design. This grants effortless clarity and a reminder of what's actually different so you and your client don't play "spot the difference" when making further changes. It also protects you from confusion over parts of the design that have not changed. Plus, your client feels heard and understood when you essentially repeat their own ideas back to them.
Use simple, concrete terms when writing the changelog, such as "increased font size," "changed color of background from black to navy" (here's a perfect change to keep a separate note stating "changed color of background from black #000000 to client logo color #001e38"), "replaced address copy with new business address," instead of vague phrases that don't convey any information. If you just write "update" or "made changes," you might as well write nothing. Express your confidence and authority on your work. Make your client see why they pay you the big bucks and why they see such great results on their end from your designs.
Personally, during the production of a project, I save editable and watermarked draft file versions on each submission and clearly label these. Upon completion of the project, I delete the old versions to reduce hogging storage. My initial submission for review, in the case of the project in this article, was called "[Client Name] Calendar 2022 v1.jpg". Similarly, upon a client's change request, I exported the next draft as "[Client Name] Calendar 2022 v2.jpg." I think this is really important for sending clients multiple versions, because if they download it, they can look at the file and instantly recognize that one is the newer version, while also having the ability to compare the two.
If you're worried about adding to your non-billable time, consider instead the time you're saving by keeping track of things. Sure, you can leave the names of the 27 layers in your Illustrator document as "Layer 1," "Layer 1 Copy," et cetera, et cetera, but...what do you do when you look back at that file a week from now and have to change the opacity of that one container box buried deep in the center of the file? A stitch in time saves nine. Disciplined and detailed time now saves hours of rework in the future. I can't even begin to express how many times naming conventions in my documents have saved both me and the client time and reduced stress. Not saving that I'm perfect, far from it, in fact. I can't tell you how many times I've worked on rush/close deadline work that was all on one layer, or unnamed layers, or ye olde "asasdfasfasfa.psd." I try to be better about it, and I've found that it really does save me time when I follow through. Saving yourself time, however, does not mean you should short yourself money. When you find that billable hours are reduced by your personal increases in skill and speed, raise your prices.
Side note, please don't use your personal notes as a place to air your grievances with a client. No matter how meticulous you are about keeping those private, it will come back to bite you in the future and potentially ruin that relationship. If you're annoyed by some silly request to alter the font size in a design by .5 points, don't write that down. It's better to let it roll off your back and retain your dignity (obviously don't be a doormat if a client is badgering you about minuscule revisions unceasingly). Especially as a freelancer, if you end up not liking the client-designer relationship, you can always refuse future projects post contract ending. Burning bridges is a bad idea in any industry, but even worse in gig-based industries.
Regularly utilizing the idea of a changelog is the quickest way to save yourself time, headaches, and rework. You'll appear more professional and skilled and give yourself more leverage in your negotiations, and keep your clients happy and informed along the way.