Good web design isn’t something that you toil over on your own, then finally unveil as a finished piece to a wide-eyed client. As a professional, you know that building a website is about providing a service to a customer, and is therefore a much more transparent, back-and-forth experience. For that reason, you and your client need to establish a channel of communication right off the bat. Forming a crystal clear understanding of what your client needs would not only help you make your design spot-on, it can also help them have a better idea of what to expect from working with you.
It’s up to you, as the service provider, to take initiative and ask the right questions at the right time (the right time being, by the way, as early as possible). These 12 questions are here to help ensure you don’t leave out anything important:
Understand the project
What’s the budget? This important question should be approached straightforwardly. Don’t beat around the bush on this one, and don’t postpone it for a later stage in the process. If the budget is minimal, you’d better find that out now than after several extra meetings with the client.
What’s the timeline? It’s important for you to know the scope of what you’re signing up for. Some clients haven’t considered their schedule yet, and in those cases you can offer a recommended course of action based on your experience, and see if it works for them.
Familiarize yourself with your client's business
What does your business do? This one might feel like too obvious of a question to bring up. Yet, in fact, it’s always best to hear about the business in your client’s own words. Hearing it come from them can clue you in on their view of the business and help you see what matters most to them. There are businesses that you know very little about (such as the career of a freelance taxidermist), so it’s always useful to become familiar with your client’s practice. But even in instances when the profession sounds pretty self-explanatory, like a dog walker, the values you might choose to emphasize can vastly differ based on how they describe their business. For example, saying, ‘I never walk more than five dogs at the same time,’ implies that intimacy and familiarity are the main values in this business, whereas someone saying ‘we go on long walks and play games together’ emphasizes spending quality time with the pets. Try to see the business from the perspective of those who run it, so that your design can reflect their values and personality.
What makes your company stand out? As a follow up question, this one can help you learn what sets your client apart from their competition. This time, open the question up so that you’re not only asking about the product or service itself, but also about the whole package, including any added value that they provide. Going back to the dog walker example, some professionals might tell you that their added value is the adorable pictures of the dogs that they send to owners every day. Knowing this kind of information can cause you to include a picture gallery in a website that doesn’t necessarily call for one. It’s a small decision, but one that can make the website much more unique and true to that particular business’ style. Find out if the company has been around for a while or is just starting out, and what ts size is. Ask about the weaknesses - not only their strengths - so that you can form a holistic understanding of who they really are.
Who are your competitors? This preliminary question should be followed up with some research on your part. Once your client names their main competitors, make sure to check out their respective online presences. See their web design, social media engagement, and more to learn about the market that your client is in, and some of the common practices for their field.
Who is your ideal customer? While it’s the client that’s hiring you, the people you’re really meant to be designing for are your client’s customers. Those people will ultimately be the ones browsing through your website, and for your work to be truly successful, you must understand them and their needs. Ask your client about their customer’s target audience, both in terms of demographics - age, gender, etc., and in terms of motivation - what do they like most about the product or service; what do they expect to find; what frustrates them, and so on.
Get to know your client's vision
What is the main goal behind building the website? Many clients know that they need some kind of web presence, but don’t really stop and think what they want their website to accomplish. For your web design to truly meet your client’s needs, you must help them to clearly articulate their goals. Ask them if their main objective is to increase brand awareness, educate site visitors about their different features and services, encourage online sales or anything else. The more specific their goals will be, the better you will be able to meet them in your design.
What features must your website include? Now that the objective is clear, it’s easier to address the question of what activities you want your site visitors to engage in. Ask your client whether they want their site visitors to book different services online, read a blog, sign up for a newsletter or chat with a live representative. Defining the types of features to be included in the website should be done in the early stages of the project, and not further down the line after you’ve put a lot of effort into perfecting some other, less important element.
What are your favorite websites and why? Ask your client to send over three to four favorite links, with a brief explanation of what makes each of them appealing. Similarly, direct the client to a few examples in your own portfolio and note what traits they have in common with what you’re thinking of creating for them. State very clearly that you’re not copying an existing website, but rather using these examples loosely as inspiration and reference for the two of you.
Understand the company's existing design
Do you have an existing website, and what do you like and dislike about it? Go over the entire site with your clients, asking them question over each and every page in order to understand what bugs them. Is it the design? The lack of features? The bandwidth? For this stage, bring a notebook and a pen and take notes. If your client is using Google Analytics, request to take a look at the data and see what can be learned from it: what pages do site visitors linger on most, and what makes them close the tab? Ask your client if they own the domain, and explain that it can be easily be transferred to their new website with Wix.
Are you active on social media? Social media is its own form of web presence, and seeing what works and what doesn’t work in your client’s communication with customers on social platforms, can be translated into the design of their new website. Find out if they want their website to link to any of their active social media channels.
Do you have a style guide or any existing images? Your client might have a clearly defined visual language that is carried across their stationary and Powerpoint presentations, and yet not share it with you as it’s unrelated to web design (or so they think). Ask for anything that might help understand their existing aesthetic and look-and-feel. Find out if they’re happy with this visual language, or whether they prefer to change it in any way. Make sure you request to use photographs or other images that they might have, which can turn out to be a perfect fit for their new website.