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I'm a software/web developer and recently we've been working with a graphic designer that lives in another state, so the contact with the client falls into my responsibility in all aspects, and one of those is gathering requirements that have to do with the website's design.

We've done some projects, but the distance is a little problematic for some clients and I've detected that this has to do with the initial requirement gathering (we can take care of minor graphic details, such as backgrounds, textures, photos, etc.), but for one project the designer actually had to redo the whole design from scratch.

The designer is very good, and I personally don't have problems when working with him remotely; in addition I haven't had any luck with local designers, so I want to make the most of this situation.


Given the context, my question is: when going with the client for the first time, what should I ask to grasp a complete sense of what the client wants? Some stuff I already ask is:

  • Are there any other websites you want us to take as a reference of what you want yours to look like?
  • Do you have any pamphlets or corporate image related material you want us to base our design on?
  • What is your target audience?

Thanks in advance.

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We have a very similar question with a broader scope that has a lot of answers that may help: How can I write requirements for a graphic designer? –  JohnB Jun 9 '13 at 15:24

5 Answers 5

up vote 17 down vote accepted

Your questions are good, and essential. I would lean on the second one a bit harder -- it's important from a marketing standpoint that the client's corporate identity is maintained across media (except when it's so awful that you have to redo that from scratch, too).

Always ask who their competitors are, and why they regard them as competition. That will tell you a lot about what works in their market and about the client.

Find out what has been successful for them in the past, either on the web or in print. By all means get any brochures, ads or sell sheets, but if you can identify "that really successful ad we ran in '05" you'll be doing them, and yourself, a favor. It's amazing how often I'll find a client had a really successful campaign going and dropped it, only to be mystified a year later when sales were off.

I spend as much time as necessary at the beginning of a project getting into the client's head. There's a great video clip of an interview with Paula Scher on the Adobe website that you should absolutely watch, that perfectly summarizes the process. The end point of this conversation (or several) is you can look at the project completely from the client's point of view as well as your own. Nine times out of ten your first design mock-up then lands in the ballpark.

In understanding the target audience, get very specific: age range, income level, interests, other places they go to buy similar products. Get it to the point where you can personify the audience ("Maisie, the 20-something office worker who's into the club scene, lives with a room-mate, loves the latest fashion but always buys at discount stores because she's always cash-strapped. Loves YouTube.") This helps in determining the look, colors, and attraction point of the landing page and/or home page. I find with small to medium size business clients that in many cases it also clarifies their own thinking on who they are trying to reach.

Clarify for yourself and for the client what the end result of a site visit is to be. It may be a purchase, but more usually it's a reach of some kind that will later turn into revenue directly or indirectly.

The client very often doesn't know what they want, beyond something as vague as "we need a new website" or "we need to be more attractive." It's your job in the initial meeting(s) to turn the nebulous idea into very specific design goals. If you come away unsure of what's wanted, write up what you got from the meeting, send it to the client and set up a phone conference or another face-to-face. Persist until you know what they need. I figure it's my job to make the client as successful as I can, so it's not all "what do you want?" -- sometimes there's a healthy dose of "here's what you need, and why you need it."

By all means bring your designer into the conversation early. That's what Skype, Adobe Connect and the conference button on your phone are for. Introduce him as "my partner" or "a colleague who will be working on this with us" if you don't want the client to know how you are outsourcing.

Get the initial wireframe or sketch and go over it with the client before the design is fully committed. That way, if you missed the mark you can find out about it early. Your second shot will usually be on the money.

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outstanding answer! –  Lauren Ipsum Jun 3 '11 at 12:02
    
+1. Great answer!! –  Edgar Gonzalez Aug 24 '11 at 1:37

I find that this covers almost everything: You need a Creative Brief.

The graphic designer you approach should have one to give to you. Here are a number of topics to consider, though this is for large projects and some of the subjects may not apply for you:

Project Background

Who are you and what do we need to know about you? Give some background information on how this project came about. What have you done in the past? Give a brief explanation of what you need from the graphic designer.

The Market

What are the current trends and challenges you're facing in your industry/ies? What are your competitors doing? Provide information that you feel is relevant such as articles, reports or statistics.

Objectives

What is the desired end result? What do you want the target audience to do? Try out the product? Understand it better? Increase awareness of your brand? Try to include some SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-constrained) targets as well, for example:

'Gain 500 Facebook likes by August' or 'Increase footfall by 5% this quarter'

Target Audience

Who is the intended target audience for this communication? Can you imagine the type of person you are trying to reach out to? How do they feel towards the market? What are their attitudes towards the product/service? How should they perceive your brand?

Proposition

What is so great about the product/service? What is the importance? What is the most compelling and persuasive message that will get them to do what you want? Try to keep it as simple as possible and benefit-led.

Benefits and Support for the Proposition

How can you prove the proposition is true? (if applicable) Provide a short list of benefits that support the proposition, directly and indirectly.

The Offer

Is there anything else that will prompt your target audience to act? If so, what? and how important is it..

Call-to-action

What's the first thing you want your intended audience to do when viewing your website? Give you a call? Buy your product/service? Book an appointment?

Tone of Voice

The mood of the design, how it should feel to the audience. Ideally you should try to think of an analogy that has an identifiable personality consistent with what you want, a famous person, a car, a brand, whatever fits.

Brand Profile

What are the most important aspects of your brand? What are your brand values, vision, character and personality?

Deliverables

What are the required outcomes from this project? A one page template? A .PSD? A fully working website?

Mandatories

What MUST be included? Your logo, strapline, any legal information, T's & C's? What constraints must be adhered to? Time? Budget? Colours? Formats?

Additional Information

Include any references, websites, info, guidelines, previously designed materials etc.

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1  
Dominic, I made some minor changes to your answer so that it better fits the question. I think it is an awesome answer, but I still feel that some parts made no sense in the context of the question. If you think I fudged it up too much, please feel free to revert the change. I'm also addling a comment with a link to the other question at the top so that people can read the answers there as well. –  JohnB Jun 9 '13 at 15:23

Ok, after reading all three answers —which were all really useful— I came up with this, hope it helps someone else:


Business

  • Who is your competition?
    • Why do you regard each of them as competition?
    • How do you distinguish yourself from each one?
  • Why do you need a website?
  • What are your expectations once your new website is online?
  • Have you done any campaigns in the past (web or printed)?
    • Which ones worked and which ones did not?
    • Why did they did/didn't work?

Audience

  • Describe your ideal clients in:
    • Age range
    • Interests
    • Gender
    • Location and/or nationality
    • Income level
  • Could you personify your typical client?, meaning: professional life, hobbies, who he/she shares his/her time with?, what type of stuff does he/she buy?, etc.
  • Where do your customers or potential customers acquire complementary & suplementary products/services?
  • Are you interested in maintaining constant online communication with your clients?
  • Do you have things you want to share online with your clients?, e.g. things you learn as a business or personally, experiences, events, etc.
  • Do you want your clients to know about the people and work that you do?

Design

  • Are there any websites that you like?
  • Are there any websites that you dislike and are from the same type of industry than yours?
  • What colors do yo like or dislike?
  • How would yo like to organize your website?, both visually and information related
  • Which one of the following philosophies are closet to the image of your business?
    • Jovial, creative and customer-oriented
    • Experienced, stable and reliable
    • Innovative, updated and technically advanced
  • Do you have any pamphlets, business cards, stationary, posters, campaign material or other corprate image related material you want the image of the website to base on?

Will let you know how it goes with my following two new clients. Thanks for everything.

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You've got a decent starting point and Alan has expounded on it, too. Here is basically my entire questionnaire that I go from when I get a prospective client:


Firstly, you have to get a grasp on how they view their company/product/self:

  • Describe your business or services. Include what makes you different & better than the competition.

  • Do you have existing business cards, logo or other printed material we need to match?

I include the next one here because it let's me know whether they're going to be a difficult client (unrealistic goals) or they're down to earth and understand the process.

  • What are your website expectations and primary goals with your website? How long do you think it'll take before you see an increase in interest, clients, profits, etc?

This is obviously another way to get your demographics & target audience.

  • Describe your ideal client. Think about their age, interests, gender, location, income, even type of computer they may use (old/new).

This give you a starting point as to what designs they are familiar with.

  • Provide a list of at least 2 websites you personally visit on a regular basis.

These two (especially the last one) are big ones for me, as it gives me good starting point as to what they like/dislike.

  • Are there any colors, layouts, styles that you like/dislike?
  • Provide at least 1 website you like and 1 you dislike. Evaluate these sites based on 1)Layout & Organization and 2)Appearance & Design.

I hope these help! :D

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In the world of GD, the requirements gathering typically leads to a document called a creative brief:

http://www.howdesign.com/article/BetterCreativeBrief/

I'll quote a key portion of that article here:

Building a Brief

All briefs should include background issues, audience information, brand positioning, creative stretch, timings, budget and sacred cows.

  • Background information—is the brand losing market share? Has the category dynamic changed? Has the market changed? What is the brand’s history and heritage? How has the brand’s design evolved over time?

  • Audience demographics and insight is critical—you need to know for whom you are designing. Pen portraits are very helpful because knowing what other brands the target consumers buy can inform the early stages of concept work and at the latter stages as you can look back and assess designs against existing purchases.

  • Proposition and positioning—it's vital that you understand what the brand offer is and what your client wants the brand to stand for. How does it want consumers to view the product offer and what does it want their takeout to be?

  • Creative stretch—get a proper explanation of the degree of stretch within the brief. Honesty is really important so that you can understand the parameters within which you are designing—how far along the scale of evolution to revolution your client is willing and able to go.

  • Timelines—understanding your client’s long term ambitions for the brand or brand portfolio is as important as knowing how quickly a new look needs to be on shelf. As is knowing the commercial imperatives and the retail trade’s expectations and what your client’s NPD pipeline looks like.

  • Budget—you need to know up front how much you have got so that you can allocate an appropriate amount of resource to it and deliver the project within budget. Be prepared to challenge the amount of money you’ve been allotted, particularly if you have been asked for a lot of routes across a large number of executions.

  • Sacred cows—what must and must not change; color, logo, positioning and anything else your brand is wedded to or violently against.

Read more: HOW Design - Building A Better Creative Brief http://www.howdesign.com/article/BetterCreativeBrief/#ixzz1O9UAPCQZ For great design products, visit our online store! MyDesignShop.com

Keep in mind that that's primarily for the marketing/branding aspects of the site design.

If your designer is also doing the UI design, then that's a different sort of requirements gather and likely one you are more familiar with as a developer.

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