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I am an in-house designer for a small tech start-up business. I create all of their advertising materials.

This is an issue I've run into many times with my point of contact from whom I get the design requests from.

for example they are asking me to create a backdrop for a trade show booth and they just asked for a "simple" background. After asking for more details they respond just make a "colored background" with our logo. At which I ask do you mean you want a solid colored background or an interesting pattern that will catch peoples attention?

So my question is: is there a time to stop asking questions and just design something to give them options. Because I feel many times I'm not sure if they know what they really want. Or should I just send them what they asked for a solid colored backdrop with their logo?

I also always direct the design requests to this google form:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1Pnt1RzlYlGl2xPsOz3t3HlxiaDYCxMxZEzhW1v3YLdE/viewform

to make the information gathering process more streamlined. But it seems the longer I've been using the form the less motivated my point of contact is to fill it with the most information.

Any tips on how teach the client the importance of information gathering?

  • If any of the answers below answers your question, please tick the "accepted"-tick-mark next to it, to mark it as the useful answers. StackExchange relies on this, and it is good for us all. If you did not get a good answer, perhaps edit your question to be more specific of what the problem is. – benteh Aug 19 '15 at 14:51
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In general, I have 3 questions for a project....

  • What information needs to be displayed?
  • What branding should be used?
  • What's the demographic being targeted?

Then I may ask a couple aesthetic questions if I've never worked with the client before:

  • Can you show me some examples of things you like?
  • What's your business philosophy?
  • How to do you see your customers?

.. those sorts of things. In reality, I prefer just to have a conversation with them about their business. Find out what they are excited about, their history. A conversation allows me to gain far more insight into the type of company/client they are than a laundry list of questions often will.

Beyond this it's my job to come up with something they will like. That's what they pay me for.

Be careful not to get your client too deep into thinking how something should look. You limit yourself that way and often start playing cat and mouse with a project. Once you've opened the door to them controlling visual aspects of the project, you have put yourself into the position of being nothing more than a software jockey.

  • Yeah, I actually always direct their design requests to this google form that I have created with some similar questions docs.google.com/forms/d/… Thats a good point " not to get your client too deep into thinking how something should look. " I think that's where I go wrong sometimes when they fill out the questionnaire they give too simple of responses and I end up needing more information (feels like they are careless while filling out the form) – Focused Muffin May 12 '15 at 17:26
  • People don't like completing essays. A conversation is always better than a form. If it must be electronic communication, email is often better than a form because people don't perceive email the same as filling out some web page. – Scott May 12 '15 at 17:42
  • +1 Bear in mind, you may be asking for aesthetic opinions from someone like my father who thinks that a rural route mailbox with an animated red flag is the height of interactivity and style. Some people have good ideas they can't/won't implement themselves. The rest just don't but will make something up if you put them on the spot. – Yorik May 12 '15 at 18:28
  • Good point about "making things up if on the spot" they certainly will! :) – Scott May 12 '15 at 18:43
  • Hmm, I had never thought of the way I was collecting information could be the issue. It seems that face to face conversations are difficult with my work situation, since I telecommute off site. Do you think creating a simple email template that includes all the questions would be less intimidating ? – Focused Muffin May 12 '15 at 19:22
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I think that form is great, frankly. If the client can't be arsed to fill it out, get the client on the phone and have the person dictate so you can fill it out. If you get grief, explain politely "I cannot make bricks without clay." If you don't have the basic skeleton and purpose of the job, you won't be able to give the person what s/he wants.

If particular fields are troublesome ("how do you want this to be perceived by others?") then maybe experiment with switching in "are there corporate colors to use?" or "please indicate the level of complexity or simplicity" — allow them to make design suggestions without micromanaging.

  • That's a great suggestion, I rarely think to reach for the phone to quickly deal with the issues. Yeah I'm still learning how to word the questions in the form as clear as possible to a non designer. Did you feel that any of the other questions on the form could be very confusing to a non-designer ? – Focused Muffin May 12 '15 at 19:47
  • @FocusedMuffin No, I think everything else is pretty clear. Nice job! – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum May 12 '15 at 20:48
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In my experience, the more information you can get before starting a project, the better, without question. However, also in my experience, there are some clients from whom you just can't get good descriptive information, and you're forced to work with little information.

If you have the time/budget, giving them a couple options isn't a bad idea. However, in some situations that can get you into trouble, meaning the client may come to always expect multiple examples for the same price, or in the same time frame.

The first step I'd take is to talk to that contact directly, and explain why getting more info up front will allow you to provide them with a better final product, which in turn will probably make them look better to others. If they just don't want to hear that, going to their supervisor (or yours) is acceptable. The main goal is to provide the best possible product/design, and you're trying to do the best job you can do. Part of that process is getting more info than "Just make it look nice."

As mentioned above, creating something the client will like is, in fact, your job, but there's nothing wrong with trying to get the most information about what they may have in mind.

It's also true that many times the client "will know what they like when they see it", so that's another argument for presenting a couple different options.

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NEVER just give in and start designing, dig as deep as you need to dig to get to the core of the project. What it sounds like to me seeing that this is an ongoing thing with the same company is that they lack Brand Identity, otherwise there wouldn't be as many mysteries as to what should be done. I just revamped my questionnaire and it's 30 PAGES... I do Corporate Identity and Brand Development. Sometimes some people scoff and screw their face at it but I assure them that there's a LOT more involved with this kind of work than just making something that looks cool.

I also ensure them that I'm fully capable of magically coming up with the perfect thing with little input but in order to do that I need to be INTUITIVE to their company and what IT needs to move forwards and be successful. Then what REALLY gets them, is I'll ask them "Don't you feel your Business DESERVES the best care available?.... as opposed to just sitting on the floor like an overgrown 5 year old letting my imagination run wild and sticking you with the results?"... That gets them thinking differently about the situation. At the end of the day this type of stuff comes from them NOT RESPECTING OUR CRAFT as something serious that actually takes any degree of intellectual brilliance. Sometimes they don't even realize this is what their perspective is because it's just so natural to everybody that they never think about it in that light until you say or do something that sheds light on it. They think as long as it looks cool everybody will be like "hey!!!.... that's cool!!!..." and start throwing their money at it just because it's cool.

All in all if they refuse to cooperate with my process I politely tell them I'm afraid I'm not the right person for their needs and withdraw myself from the situation.. which they NEVER expect an Artist to do.. so they'll either snap in line and cooperate, or let you walk away not knowing what just left the building... which is better for you in the end.

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I'd just go with your gut. I think the client often does not know what they want until they see it, so the best you can do if you aren't given more information is do what you think would look best while still following their direction.

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