As designers, we’re sometimes tempted to put the horse before the cart and prioritize how a web or print page looks over its reason for existing in the first place. The reality is if you make a beautiful site, poster or publication that doesn’t achieve its goals, you’ll ultimately have unhappy clients and if you create a site that might be horridly ugly but it gets new customers, new readers and so on, the client will be very happy, and will come back to you for more work, and recommend you by word of mouth to others.
“Please summarise your goals for the project”
This is the absolute most important thing you need to know on any project. Nothing else matters if you don’t know what the goals are. Is it to spread information about a particular topic? Is it to raise advertising revenue? Is it to generate leads? Is it to provide entertainment?
Understanding the primary goals is the foundation of everything you will do during a project.
Q2: “Describe your target audience / market”
This is the second most important question, because if you understand the type of people you want to reach you can intuit the process or product that will best achieve this. A ‘successful’ autonomous professional researching a new yacht will respond to a different type of presentation than a people looking for birthday party costumes.
What type of content is relevant and complimentary?
- News of service or product updates
- Reviews and articles relating to your offering
- Promotional content and/or Identity reinforcement
- Frequency engagement – image blogging and instant social messaging
When you have a clear idea of the kind of content your audience wants (or needs), you can structure your design process around that, particularly format and composition. The content will then determine the form and function of your design and the production criteria.
How do you want your audience to respond?
- Browse and buy or exchange
- Click referrals or promotions
- Orders and requests for estimates
- Downloading content, files or software
- Subscriptions to feeds or e-newsletters
If you want to achieve the goals outlined in your first question, it must be understand how and why your audience will respond. A design projects purpose is usually to influence your audience to respond or by taking action.
About Design Style
Style is important in that it supports purpose and communicates visual consistancy. We create styles to organise and present intent and purpose, and align the design style with a ‘look and feel’ that appeals to your audience in relation to the ‘why’ they would want to hire you or buy from you.
Audience appeal and position
How should your project present itself
- Professional and Info-rich
- Bright, easy to digest and fun
- Grunge, bohemian, edgy, etc.
Style is a transient aesthetic and can be a matter of individual taste. So, in order to appeal to a wider audience of many different tastes it is good prctise to simplify and deconstruct
so sometimes you need to encourage your clients to dip into some woolly descriptions. This is one question where having some example answers is really important, because otherwise a person will often come up short on describing what they want. Give them a couple of possibilities and you’ll find just about every client can give you a concise description of their preferred feel.
Q6: “List two or three colors you want”
- Navy blue and white
- Middle blue and orange
- Green, yellow and black
This question is very helpful if you can get an answer including two or more colors, as that’s all you really need for most designs. Even more helpful is if the client sees the differentiation between “Navy blue” and “middle blue” in the example answers, then tries to follow suit and be extra descriptive with their colors.
Sometimes you’ll get someone who just says, “Blue”, and nothing else. In this case you can draw from the other questions you’ve asked to make more detailed decisions on color scheme.
Q7. “What are some example sites you like?”
This is a great “if all else fails” question to ask, because even if a client struggles to answer other questions on style it can be much easier for them to recognize something they like and show it to you.
It’s likely a client won’t know a site they like off the top of their head, so I recommend suggesting a couple of places they can go to browse designs, like ThemeForest for example. This, of course, is not so you can duplicate designs they say they like, but so you can get a feel for what resonates strongly with the client.
Wrapping Up and General Tips
If you ask these seven questions at the start of every project, you’ll be giving your clients a great helping hand in communicating to you what they want. This in turn will help you keep your projects to a timely turnaround, and deliver results that make your clients happy.
I’ll leave you with a couple of additional general tips.
Always ask the client if they have, or plan to get, a logo. If so, make sure they send you that logo before you start work. The reason is this logo will already have a certain style and color palette, and you can often then design an entire site around it. Conversely, a site designed with a logo added later may clash.
Get Those Answers
And when it comes to getting your questions answered, you may occasionally find you have a client who is very busy, or doesn’t really want to think about their project much at the beginning, and sends you back a questionnaire with some empty answer boxes. Always remember that the chances are very high they will have answers to the questions after you’ve done the work if you say nothing and proceed.
If this happens, respectfully pressure clients to answer all questions and try to help them along a little bit if they are having trouble. If you have someone who really just will not answer questions, which is very rare in my experience, that is up to them and is totally fine. However you should then be very clear with the client that you will instead make the decision yourself, and changing it later will count as a revision.
Which brings me to my final tip on getting clients to communicate what they want: have a fair but strict cap on revisions and be sure the client is aware of it at the outset. When someone knows they have a maximum of three revisions before they have to pay extra, they will think very carefully about what they want instead of just improvising without regard for your time. This approach is part of why I typically had only one revision request per job, even though clients could have used three if they wanted.
I hope you can take these methods I used to go from struggling and overworked to happy and independent freelancer, and use them to the same effect in your own web design business. Good luck!
Understanding the primary goals for a site is the foundation of everything you will do during a project.