Website Redesign Questions & When to Design Against Client Expectations

When clients seek a website redesign, they don’t always know what they want. They know they want a different look, new structure or revised copy, but they may have trouble pinpointing their specific needs. By asking clients some basic questions about their motivations and goals for the redesign before creating a proposal, you’ll enhance communication and understanding so you can develop a clear picture of what the individual truly wants.

Website Redesign Questions to Ask

Tell me about your organization in a few sentences. This request gives you a snapshot of what the organization does.

What would happen if your current site stays the same? This question helps a client pinpoint the items on the site that do not work. For example, the website may not be easy to use on mobile browsers.

What sets your organization (or background) apart from your competitors? Why would new customers seek you? This inquiry helps create a focus for the website redesign and ensures the new site will enhance the client’s professional credibility. Instead of declaring that the organization offers the “best service in the area,” which is too general, the redesign can emphasize the client’s years of experience in the industry or excellent customer retention rates.

What problems does your organization solve? In today’s marketing world, consumers aren’t interested in simply hearing about how great a company is. They focus on the solutions and experiences a company offers.

Why do you think website visitors should do business with you and not your competitor? When a search engine’s results yield multiple pages of competitors offering the same services or products, it’s important to have a website that highlights what makes the organization memorable.

Who is your target customer? Who do you hope to attract with your website redesign? Please offer details about your target’s geographic location, age, gender, interests, income, family status and so on. This question helps you gain a better understanding of the client’s expectations. Keep in mind that the redesign should be geared toward attracting the target customer – not necessarily the client.

What is your budget? This inquiry tells you a lot about a prospective client. Good clients are individuals who are willing to pay the price for good work. If a client doesn’t know how to answer this question, he or she maybe hasn’t thought about it or just doesn’t really know what a redesign realistically costs.

Are you the decision-maker for this project? How quickly do you plan to make decisions? Hopefully you’re already dealing with a decision-maker who will be able to get back to you within a day or two regarding decisions. Otherwise, long turnaround times can drag out the project. This is also a good time to ask if you’ll be working with other staff members.

What is your expected deadline? The answer to this question can give you a picture of the scope of the project. Follow up by asking if the client has a specific reason for the target deadline, such as a re-branding, trade show or other publicity event.

List three to five sites you like, and tell me why you like them. The websites listed will indicate the client’s preferences with regard to looks, organization and copy.

Have you checked out your competitors’ websites? What do you like or dislike about them? A competitor’s site is a great place to learn trade secrets and find great ideas.

What things do you not want in a redesign? Asking this question in advance can help save time.

Who is writing the web copy? Is the copy ready for the redesign? If you aren’t providing the web copy, you’ll need to coordinate with the person who is.

Do you plan to sell items online? If so, what are the items, how many do you plan to sell and what forms of payment will you accept? This question will help you determine if your client needs an e-commerce strategy for the site.

What technologies do you want to integrate into the redesign? Find out whether the client expects to use any third-party tools such as a loan application, client login area or secure document shelf. This is the time to catch any potential opportunities for adding functionality.

What five keywords are most important for your site? This question will help you develop appropriate SEO-related codes and tags.

How do you want to encourage repeat website visitors and referrals? When a client answers this question, you’ll learn whether he or she plans to use social media, a blog, whitepapers, referral incentives or e-newsletters.

When You Should Design Against Client Expectations

The age-old battle between designers and their clients rages on. Your client expects a certain type of design from you. They give you examples of what they want. Then they share their goal for this design, and your heart sinks. You know that they need something entirely different than what they expect to accomplish this goal.

Steve Jobs said something very wise about designing a product for a customer: “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” And the same is true of design clients.

Now, of course, some clients are the perfect client. They tell you their needs, their goals, and may even give you a couple of examples, but they leave the whole of the project up to you. When you present your design, they are in love and can’t wait to hire you for their next project.

But many times, designers have to be prepared to either sell their soul (i.e. creative pride) to get paid or be prepared to walk away from a project into which they have already put too much time. Any time you cross a client, you will probably need to be prepared for one of these worst possible outcomes. Remember the saying, “Prepare for the worst and hope for the best”?

Very often, you may only have to compromise a little on your design pride to get to the invoicing part of the job. But disagreeing with a client’s opinion is no light matter, which is why you need to know exactly why you should not always design to client expectations.

They Didn’t Hire You to Make them Happy

Actually, most clients think they hired you to make them happy. This is what they expect – to be happy with your design. However, it’s a Catch 22 for you as a designer. If your only focus is to make them happy, more than likely they won’t be very pleased with the end results. A bit confusing, isn’t it? Let’s clear this up…

In his article for Medium, Mike Monteiro bluntly observes about design clients, “What they didn’t hire you to do is make them happy, or be their friend.” He goes on to say that you as a designer have a job to do, and that job is to help them achieve their goal. It’s a blending of different types of expertise (you as the designer and the client as whatever-it-is-they-do).

Now, Monteiro also points out that disagreeing with the client should be done tactfully and that you as the designer need to know how to present your designs confidently. (He has some excellent tips on how to present the design in a way clients can’t refute, so definitely read through his article.) What he means, though, is that your focus shouldn’t be on keeping the client happy. Your focus should be on how to help your clients meet their goals. Only then will a client truly be happy at the end of your project.

You are the Design Expert

designjamiasi via Compfight cc

Let’s repeat this: YOU are the design expert. YOU are the one who has educated yourself on all the “behind-the-scenes” knowledge needed to truly know how to take a design idea and bring it to fruition in the best possible way. A client usually comes to the table with a list of expectations, but, once again, YOU are the one who has to take those expectations and turn them into a workable design.

Now, does this mean that you, as the all-knowing expert, should never listen to your clients? Should you just disregard every suggestion that they have? I think you know these are rhetorical questions. As I mentioned above, the client is the expert in, well, their field of expertise, whatever that is. And you cannot be the design expert they need if you don’t take time in the beginning to learn about their audience, their problems, their goal for this design, their vision as a company.

Remember the Steve Jobs quote? Gregory Ciotti, a marketing strategist at Help Scott, interpreted Jobs’ quote this way: “Customers might help identify the destination, but you can’t listen to them on how to get there…Put another way, it isn’t the customer’s job to tell you how to solve their problem; feedback is most useful in identifying which problems actually exist.” It’s your job as the designer to take that feedback, figure out what the client is trying to say, and come up with the best solution.

In other words, you have to look beyond the client’s color change or graphic size suggestions to what it is that is really bothering them about the design. In a Quora forum on when and how much to listen to clients, Dani Nordin (15 years as a professional designer) puts it very well: “As a designer, it’s your responsibility to *listen* to your clients; however, it’s also your responsibility as the professional they hired to understand what’s underneath their comments and tactfully steer them in the direction that’s going to work for their business.”

Clients are not Innovative

Karen Horton via Compfight cc

Another huge reason to not always design what your client expects is simply that clients are not innovative. This goes hand-in-hand with the fact that you are the design professional. Usually a client can only compare what they want to existing designs, as Art Turock points out in his brilliant article about his innovative solution for leadership training.

Turock says, “An entrepreneur’s job is to invent the future. Don’t delegate that responsibility to your customers.” And this also applies to designers and their clients. Your job is to “invent the future” in your design. With many clients, what they expect in a design is probably not what they need. And it’s usually not something that is innovative.

As the expert, you have to help guide them. As mentioned above, listen to your clients’ expectations, but make educated decisions when needed to veer from what they expect. And learn how to present your design decisions with confidence, explaining how your creation fulfills their goals. If they have more suggestions, listen politely. But don’t make a committment to go along with their changes. Give yourself time to understand what it is they feel is missing and make changes later if necessary.

Your End Projects Affect Your Future

As mentioned above, what a client expects very often is not what they actually need to meet their design goals. So, if you just go along with every little change or design critique, you could end up with a bad project not worthy of display in your portfolio. But it’s even worse than that.

Hannah Volz writes in her article on managing client expectations, “If you only focus on making the client happy, you may end up with a hot mess of a project you aren’t proud of that feels like a step backward for the client’s business.” So not only will it be a project you want to hide, it will also be something that could actually hurt a client. And this ultimately can hurt your future as a designer.

Let’s say this same client decides to use you for another project. Expectations are now set, so, as Volz also points out, “you can look forward to more unsatisfying, frustrating work in the future.” The client now expects you to make every little change they suggest. Volz points out that the only thing you are getting out of projects from this client now is money: no satisfaction and definitely not a piece you are proud to display.

But it can get worse than this. What about those clients whose expectations are set extremely high but their budget is not nearly enough to cover it all? If you just go along with what they want, you won’t even have enough money to make up for the frustration. And, again, you can be sure to expect the same from this client in the future.

So, Become a Politician

cliff1066™ via Compfight cc

And I mean this in all seriousness. You literally have to politic your clients when you decide that meeting their expectations is not right for them and their goals.

In his article on convincing a client that the design is perfect, Robert Bowen says, “We owe it to our creative work to argue for whatever serves the design beyond all else, even though the client is footing the bill. We may end up having to give in to the client, but at least we tried.” But Robert also points out just how important it is to convince your client in the right way.

What do politicians do? They speak on topics that matter the most to their constituents, they give speeches with great confidence about why they believe a change needs to be made, they smooth talk to win opposers over to their side. And this is what you as a designer need to do to when presenting your designs to clients. Become a politician. In this way, you will be much more confident when you know you shouldn’t design what your client expects.

Final Thoughts

Keeping your clients happy keeps you happy, right? So, try out these tips and make their project the best it can be. Prove to your clients that their goals will be met with your design, even if the road getting there is different from what you or your client expected.

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