Understanding your client: 7 difficult questions to ask up front

4 min read
  •  Nov 28, 2016
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Congratulations—you’ve won the pitch and got the job. As a designer, though, the hard work has just begun.

Whether you’re a freelancer or working at an agency, it’s not always easy to ensure you get the information you need from a client. You may feel like you’re going blind into a large company with a set culture, and defined identity and values.

Still, initiating contact and getting the right preliminary information from your client prior to starting work is vital. The information you gather will set the tone for the rest of the project—and help in putting together an accurate quote, timeframe, and working schedule.

It’s easy to shy away from asking vital tough questions early in the process when you’re working for yourself. If you want to set up a successful client relationship, however, you need to ask these questions.

How are you different?

What sets your client apart from the thousands of other people who offer the same thing?

Push for a solid answer here so you can better understand their culture and how they’re different in the services or product they provide, their office space, or their approach to work.

From there, think about how to reflect that in their design.

Why do you want a new brand/logo/identity/website?

Make sure any potential client is starting this process for the right reasons.Twitter Logo Ask them what exactly they want to change and why.

If it turns out they’re looking for a quick fix or a rapid increase in short-term business, it may be wise to question whether they’re looking as far into the future as they need to.

What do you think this project will improve?

Though a new design might look better, what exactly will it improve? Your client might be sending the wrong message if you rebrand or change their visual identity too strongly, and these updates will have to be justified.

As a designer, the last thing you want is to have your site design bear the weight of bottom-line business performance. There are of course strong cases for how refreshing a brand identity will improve the marketing, direction, and profits of company, but ensure they are well thought out and solid.

Before working with a client, make sure they have a clear vision of how a new brand or look-and-feel will improve the company—or will at least let you help them find that vision.

“Getting key design questions answered ahead of time saves so many headaches later.”

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How much do you have to spend?

Don’t avoid the ever-pressing issue of budget and spend. Address this early and come to grips with how much your client has budgeted for the project. Ask for specifics, and don’t make any assumptions.

This is especially true with first-time clients, before a working relationship has been developed. If nothing else, it will give you a good idea of the scope of the project, and how much you will be able to deliver within their budget and associated timeframe.

What are your long-term goals?

This ties into the previous questions about timing for the project, and why your client seeks a brand refresh or digital/print rebranding.

Ask about long-term goals. These form the backbone of a company, especially a small one, so probe into what they’re looking to achieve in the future. Also be sure to ask about existing designs, other current design projects, and anything else you should be aware of before you begin. Most companies will have existing structures you might need to work around or within.

The work you do for them may be around for a while—make sure it fits into their plansTwitter Logo and won’t become outdated fast.

What’s the timeline for this project?

A very clear idea of a project timeline needs to be established so everyone knows what to expect when. It’s easy to get going on the work, get excited by the idea, and get caught up in the creative—only for the client to say they were expecting it far earlier than you were expecting.

Make goals, targets, and deadlines—and stick to them.Twitter Logo Also be realistic about how much can be achieved within a certain timeframe and make sure these are communicated.

Ask honest questions about what your client wants done and give honest answers about your capacity and abilities.

Who are the key stakeholders/decision makers?

This may not be a difficult question, but it’s an important one. The answer to this needs to be pinned down as early as possible.

You need to be speaking to the right people—as in, the ones who can sign off your work.

We all know work can often be held up throughout the review, feedback, and sign-off process. This can get even worse if you realize down the line you’ve talked to people with no real power to say “yes” or “no” to your designs. Many people within an organization will have creative opinions on your work, but it’s vital that the main decision-maker is happy with it.

“Who needs to see your work before it’s good to go? Identify the real decision-makers.”

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Questions—and attempting to find the answers—are a huge part of the job we do when we’re creating or refreshing a brand identity for a client.

In the best-case scenario, you’ve asked and answered the right questions about potential clients before you ever sign on the dotted line. If not, ask these vital questions as early as possible in the process to save yourself potential headaches later.

Consider this “getting to know your client phase” to be the crucial first part of your design process.

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