There’s a certain feeling of creative refreshment that arises when taking on a new project. You’re moving away from the status quo to tackle unique design problems and produce original work that you can be proud of. This shift can be reinvigorating for your team’s morale and can help you grow your expertise as a designer or developer.
Despite these benefits, new projects can quickly unravel if you aren’t adequately prepared from the start. You need to be armed with the right information to deliver appropriate and effective solutions for your clients — and gathering that information should be your top priority when working with a new client.
As much as this first interaction is a chance for you to get to know your client on a personal level, it’s important to use this opportunity to gather the specifics that will drive the project in the right direction. This means using your initial meeting to ask the right questions, which will help you write your project design brief, smooth out your workflow, and deliver a final product that wows your client.
To help you get started, here are five of the most important questions you should ask when meeting with your newest client.
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1. Why are we doing this project?
Clients will often come to you with a solution already envisioned and say something like, ”we need you to create a new landing page to promote our new product launch.” But let’s be honest for a second, clients don’t always know what is best for them. It’s your job as a design or development consultant to provide strategic input and advice that will lead to the most appropriate solution for their needs — not simply accept what they suggest.
Begin by taking a step back from what they’re proposing, and try to identify the specific business or design problem they are trying to solve. Try to outline your client’s existing pain points and budding opportunities. This may lead you to discover alternative solutions more suitable for accomplishing their goals.
By starting your project with a deeper understanding of your client’s motivations, you’ll be in a better position to provide a service that actually helps their business, rather than just designing something that looks good but functions poorly.
2. Who will be using your website?
Design is a subjective experience — some users will love your website, while others detest it. Because of this unavoidable subjectivity, it’s critical that you develop a strong understanding of your client’s target audience.
Take the time to ask your client who their ideal users are before starting to work. This insight can be invaluable and help inform your content and design decisions, ultimately helping you build a comfortable, familiar, and fluid experience for their users.
Your client's answers can also help you when drafting web copy. They’ll allow you to identify the ideal voice, tone, and language you should use on the site, in order to position your client’s brand authentically in the eyes of their users.
Here are some of the details to gather from your client:
- User demographics (age, gender, education, income)
- User psychographics (media consumption habits, lifestyle, commonly used slang, or jargon)
- Purchasing habits
- Current website metrics (if completing a redesign) including existing bounce rates, user navigation flows, and conversion rates
While recording this information, it's helpful to differentiate between who your client’s ideal users are and who their actual users are. Some clients will have a distorted view of who comprises their existing customers or they might be trying to reach a new audience altogether. It’s important to keep track of what’s relevant to each audience segment, so that you don’t alienate any of them with your design.
Having a strong answer to this question will give you the foundation for designing a website that resonates with users and accomplishes your client’s business objectives.
3. What does success look like?
You should also talk to your client about their definition of success. It’s important that you come to a consensus on success metrics immediately so that you can begin the project with clear expectations for your team, process, and design. That way, both you and your client know what the project is being assessed against and can avoid any unnecessary friction down the line.
We often think of success in terms of measurable metrics, but this isn’t necessarily the case — success can range from the achievement of specific quantifiable results, such as increased sales or visits, to more abstract variables, like ensuring an open-feedback loop throughout the project. Often enough, you will end up with a combination of both the measurable and abstract. But ideally, you should have at least one success metric tied directly to the problem you identified earlier in your conversation.
Regardless of their definition of success, having an answer to this question will help you produce a final product that delights your client and serves their business needs.
4. How can we avoid failure?
Equally as important as knowing what will make a project a success is knowing what will make it fail. Too often I have worked on projects where absolute “must-not-haves” were not discussed up front, only to appear midway through the job, costing designers time and agencies money. Addressing this question head-on is an opportunity for you to strike out potential failures before you even put them on paper.
When chatting with your client, try to get them to list features, designs, or styles that they absolutely do not want their website to contain. An effective exercise you can run to get this rolling is to have your client show you the least favorite websites of their competitors and push them to identify the specific reasons why. Maybe they’re turned off by flat design or they absolutely hate stock photography — whatever it may be, this knowledge can help streamline your work and help you avoid countless revisions down the line.
This conversation can be a difficult one, especially if you have a highly opinionated client. If you’re worried, just remember that you can learn just as much, if not more, about what your client is looking for by identifying what they are not looking for.
5. What’s the scope of this project?
This one should be pretty obvious, but important nonetheless. Scope is an integral part of any project and defining it in your initial client meeting will allow you to assess whether or not it is a right fit for your team.
A core aspect of the scope that will impact your decision to take on a project will be its timeline. Don’t just ask your client when they expect to see a final product, but get them to identify any key dates or milestones leading up to that deadline. If you accept the project, these dates will be instrumental in creating a project schedule that keeps you and your team on track. On the other hand, you might compare the client’s timeline to your existing workload and decide you just don’t have the capacity to take it on.
Try to use this conversation to identify the individuals in your client’s organization who will be driving the project. These should include your main point of contact who you’ll deal with day-to-day, the decision makers in the company who will give final approval for your designs, as well as any stakeholders who might be able to provide valuable information or input. Having this list of key players will help ensure you receive the necessary feedback to keep your project running smoothly.
Finally, you’re going to want to talk about your client’s budget. There’s some debate in the industry about whether you should ask a client for their budget upfront, or estimate and deliver the price yourself. The approach you take for budgets is entirely up to you and largely dependent on the client and job. Regardless of the direction you choose, having a rough understanding of what your client is willing to spend will allow you to pitch your services accurately, and decide if they are worth your time or not.
Understanding the scope of a project will allow you to manage your team’s resources and your clients expectations from a job’s beginning to its completion.
How do you start your new web design projects? What other information do you always try to gather from your clients?
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