9 Things to Understand About a Client When Starting a Design Project

As a designer, each of your clients and projects is unique. However, there are certain things that you will need to know or understand about all of your clients in order to produce your best work for them. An effective website will be built to address the specific needs of the business, which will require the designer to accurately understand a lot of details about the business.

In this article we’ll look at nine things that should be discussed between the designer and the client at the start of the project to improve the likelihood of success. These topics focus on getting to know the business and their needs, rather than contractual issues like payment and deadlines.

1. The Purpose of the Business

Almost all businesses have a mission statement and a vision statement. Understanding the basics of why a business exists and what it aims to be are imperative if you are going to be able to design a website that is truly reflective of the business and effective for its customers.

If you’re unclear about the core functions of a client or why they exist, be sure to get answers to these questions before getting into the project. It’s usually simple information, but without it, the project can lead down the wrong path.

2. The Specific Products and Services of the Business

Once you have a clear understanding of why the business exists, it’s also important to know specifically what they offer to customers or clients that generates income for the business. Whether you are building an e-commerce site, a general informational site, or any other type of site, it’s always necessary to have knowledge of what the client is offering to visitors of the website.

3. The Demographics of Their Customers/Clients

A discussion of the products and services of a business will naturally lead you to more information about the customers and clients who are paying for those products and services. An effective website will be user-focused, so it is critical that you, as the designer, and your client both have an accurate picture of who will be using the website and who is likely to be interested in what the business has to offer.

Getting as much information as possible in this area is a good practice. Information such as age, sex, occupation, income of their target customers can be extremely helpful for determining an appropriate style of design for the site. Additionally, information about why they would be interested in the products or services of the business will be equally critical for creating a website that maximizes potential.

4. Corporate Culture

A good website will be reflective of the business so that it becomes an effective part of their overall marketing and corporate identity. In order to create a site that is an accurate representation of the business, you will need to have a certain level of understanding about their corporate culture. Many times you can gain an understanding of their culture by visiting the business in person (if possible), speaking with several different employees, speaking with their clients or customers (if possible), and by looking at their existing marketing materials, such as brochures, business cards, and advertisements.

5. Needed Areas of Improvement from Their Current Website

If the project is a re-design of an existing website, one of the most important things that you will need to know is why they have chosen to re-design at this time, and specifically what are they setting out to improve through the re-design? Is their old website several years old and just in need of a general facelift? Have there been major changes in the business that require a new design and new information? Are new products and services being offered that were not a part of the old site? Has their existing site proven to be ineffective at bringing in new business? These are very logical things to consider, but you may have to ask the client for details and clarification in this area as many of them will not think about your need to fully understand why they are embarking on the re-design.

6. Their Expectations for the New Websites

If there are specific areas where their existing website is failing or out-of-date, make sure that you have an understanding of specifically how they expect the new website to improve their business. Expectations are a huge factor in determining their level of satisfaction with your work, so it’s critical that you know exactly what is expected of you and the end result of the project in order to satisfy the client.

7. The Determining Factors of Failure or Success for the Project

A new design may give the business a satisfactory feeling of improvement for their website, but ultimately there will be other factors that determine if the project was a success or a failure. As the designer, to effectively do your job and give the client a website that improves their business, it’s important that you have an understanding of exactly what will make or break the project. Maybe the success rests solely on increased sales. Maybe a website that is a more accurate reflection of the business is of primary importance. Whatever the situation, knowing how you will be measured will allow you to focus on the appropriate areas.

8. Their Reason for Choosing You as a Designer

With so many freelance designers and design firms out there to choose from, it’s clear that the client has chosen you for a reason. There is something about you that made the client feel that you were the best fit for the job. Maybe it was a specific item from your portfolio. Maybe it was the effective communication and attention to detail that you showed before signing the contract. Maybe it was your pricing.

Whatever the case may be, there is something about you and your work that encouraged the client to go with you over other designers. The reasoning behind this decision will often help you to have a better understanding of what they want or expect from you.

9. Their Plans for Maintaining the Site

Almost every website being designed and developed these days is using some type of content management system. The choice of a CMS and how you build the site should be influenced by their needs for ongoing maintenance and updates to the site.

Do they plan to add a lot of new pages and frequently change photos and text on existing pages? Will they need various templates that can be used on specific pages for different purposes? Will they only be making occasional and minor updates to pages? Understanding the ongoing needs of the client can often help to determine which CMS is right for the specific project. In some cases the client may already have a CMS in mind that they want to use, but this is often not the case.

What’s Your Approach?

As a designer, how do you approach the challenge of getting to know more about clients at the start of a project? Are there other items that were not listed here that are critical to you?

For more posts on topics related to running a successful design business, please see:

Start Your Own Freelance Business!

Learn how I went from a corporate employee to owning my own freelance business and blog. Sign up for my email newsletter and get a FREE copy of my Ebook plus a coupon for 10% off your first billing cycle on any Vandelay Premier plan!

Looking for hosting? WPEngine offers secure managed WordPress hosting. You’ll get expert WordPress support, automatic backups, and caching for fast page loads.