Questions to Ask a Client Before Designing Their Website
Updated March 8, 2021
Taking on new client website design projects is always exciting. The getting to know what new customers are looking for, what they expect for a given budget and how fast they want it completed are just part of the preliminary information that’s needed before getting started with the work.
Below are some of the most common, and most important, questions that should be asked at the start of a new website design project.
Knowing the starting point is the only way to effectively get to the finish line. The Current Situation questions are the ones to ask so that you know exactly how much will be needed to get to that completed project.
There’s huge differences between clients who have had a website, or two or three and those who will be getting one for the first time.
The client’s perception about current website strong points and problems is key to understanding their pain points (and what is prompting them to seek a new site design), just as knowing who their aiming to engage and the tools already available are both big parts in developing the creatives for the website.
Current Situation Questions:
If you have a website already, what do you see as strengths and weaknesses of the current site?
This clarifies the client perception about their site and what they recognize as the best parts and the weak links or pain points.
What goals and objectives do you have for the website?
Purpose impacts layout and flow through the site. An educational or informational site doesn’t need to work the same as one seeking lead capture, signups or ecommerce sales.
Have you already got a basic brand style guide and graphics (colors, fonts, and assorted high-res logos)?
Without a pre-existing library of brand information and resources, there will need to be a brand development component of the project that adds designer hours of effort and thereby bumps the cost upward.
What are the core brand values, tone/voice and perceived image that you’re aiming to convey via the website?
Conservative vs progressive. Trendy versus traditional. Fonts, colors, images and more, all need to be consistent with how the client wants to come across as visitors peruse the website.
Who is your primary target audience?
Creating a site that appeals and engages means resonating with the intended audience. The best way to achieve this is to fully understand exactly who is being targeted.
What differentiates you from the competition? Who are your competitors?
Targeting is what aligns design and content with expectations. Differentiators, on the other hand, are used to show the client brand in a more favorable light, setting it apart from the competition.
Will the designer(s) be working with an SEO/marketing agency who will be optimizing content during or after the new site build?
Putting placeholder content on pages, or creating non-optimized content, where another team is going to tweak it for search rankings is completely different from handing over full responsibility to the designer. More time and effort if it isn’t handled externally.
Do you have a current designer? Who is your hosting with? Is the domain already registered and in your control?
Site migrations, control panel and FTP access, liaising with existing or previous website designers all depend on what’s happened and the current environment. Getting access at a sufficient level to make necessary changes is just one complication that can arise from these variables.
Having a clear conception as to the desired features and functions of the new website means asking more than just visual presentation questions, but also finding out the ways the site will connect with others and the basic tasks that it will perform.
Getting the functionality is great, but then one must know who’s going to be using it, from the client side, and how adept they are at dealing with technical matters, content matters and general administration.
From a style perspective, are there other sites online in which you like the look and feel, ease of use or other traits that makes them stand out? Name 3 or 4…
Relying on clients to describe their company image that is wished to be portrayed is a good pulse check for finding how they think they want to be seen. Asking them to identify websites that they consider great examples is another way of ascertaining their ideals. Sometimes the two don’t align perfectly, but at least you’ve got some footing in figuring out what they really want.
Are there systems that must be integrated – including mobile applications, payment processing, event systems where resources are booked, reviews – internal and external, social network feeds, shipping, live chat, auction sites like eBay and sales sites like Amazon, CMS/CRM, analytics, marketing or others? Would you like to have a forum, wiki, blog, newsletter signups/subscribes, site search, or other specific sub-function?
This is where a relatively straightforward project can scope-creep into the stratosphere. When one or more system integrations are required, work can shift from visual design and user experience thoughts into full blown development work, requiring programming time, add-ons or plugins, licenses and more.
Does there need to be a members-only area of the site which can only be accessed by visitors with username/password credentials?
Similar to above, but may require more scope time to find out exactly what are the private area capabilities. Development time is a giant question mark until this is made very clear.
Who will be adding content after launch? What level of expertise do they have in doing so?
When a site is going to be administered by experts, there’s much less need for it to be user friendly at the time of adding, or editing, content. One reason WordPress is used as a base platform by so many sites is simply because regular humans can get a handle on it quickly.
Will it be localized to one language, like English, or need to be multilingual?
Multilingual sites require more than just translation. It also means being able to present the right language for the right visitors, and giving them the ability to select their language manually.
What about images – will any be provided in one form or another, or will all images need to be created from scratch?
Many clients have no notion of how much work goes into creating images for a website or what it would look like without any/many. Setting expectations is a critical step that must occur before the project gets underway.
What about videos – do you consider them necessary? If so, will they be provided or need to be created?
Similar to images, but often much more time consuming to create, edit and optimize, video is gaining popularity and can be considered a necessity for sites these days.
Will you be providing copy for each page on the site or will the design team need to create it all?
This is where migrations and new builds diverge. Reformatting existing content to fit an updated site design is massively quicker than having to plan, write, edit, optimize and format new pages. The number of pages dramatically increases the cost and timescale for production.
Some of the best plans don’t always come together as originally envisioned. It can happen. That’s why it’s necessary for both sides to have a very clear understanding of expectations, costs, outputs and time to complete.
Verbal agreements can be fraught with complications down the line as a he-said she-said situation ensues. It’s always good to get it in writing.
The Deal Questions:
Are we agreed on the total project budget?
It’s surprising how many projects are open ended, with unhappy clients and designers, at the conclusion of work, because expectations weren’t clear and cost was more than they thought reasonable.
Are we agreed on the estimated project timescale?
A familiar concept is fast, good and cheap – pick which two you want! Those not from a design background really have little idea as to the labor necessary to produce a quality website, graphics, videos, page content, or even search engine optimization. Making projected timescales clear up front, along with the knowledge that there can be some wiggle room, matters.
Are you okay with releasing funds as milestones are reached? Are the conditions for meeting each milestone clear?
Rather than waiting until the project is 100% complete, it’s common to have the total cost paid in installments at particular points along the way. The larger, the more costly and the longer in duration, the more necessary this becomes. With multi-member teams, integrations that require development and cash outlay, content creation, video production, and so forth, it’s good to pre-plan exactly when milestones will be reached and how much payment is being expected.
Have you signed and returned the agreement? When will the initial deposit or first installment payment be made?
This is the trigger that sets things in motion. Acting prior to receipt of the signed agreement and funds is a risk – some people are unpredictable. Get it in writing and get a deposit up front!