The design process from start to finish is different for each designer, but it’s important to remember that you’re designing for the client and their users and not for design’s sake. Utilize current trends in web and app design in moderation, but ultimately the client may not need or want a shiny, new, image-heavy, animation-laden, modern web design.
Of course, design is a fragile balance of good design and meeting client expectations and tastes. Their sensibilities and “good design” don’t always go hand-in-hand, but these recommended questions can help guide you through the process and shape the design that fulfills goals while keeping your creative expectations well-fed.
The assumption here is that the client you’re working with already has some internet presence. Often, a client only ever wants a new website because their old site “isn’t great.” That’s an entirely valid reason to want something new, but dig deeper. “It isn’t great” doesn’t help you design this new site.
Determine what they’re seeking to gain from the redesign. Does the client expect that a new, flashy website will increase web traffic or help with newsletter signups? Or, is the client trying to address past user complaints about certain aspects of the site not working? Patiently work with the client to determine what “isn’t great” really means to them, the site, and their users; and you will get a better baseline idea of what they need.
This question may not inform color or type choices, but it tells you where to focus.
Once you know why, you can ask, “For whom?” You need to know your client’s audience. For example, if the primary demographic is mainly teens, the design or structure would be much different than a site whose audience is in their 40s. We often forget this, because a designer’s tool belts are current trends – trends informed by the largest growing group of internet users: Millennials. These trends might not necessarily be good user experience (at first), but they are what the internet generally may expect to see or how they may expect to interact with your site.
You know your client’s audience now, but you need to know how they are viewing the client’s site. Is it from desktop computers, tablets, phones, or other? Knowing the platform tells you where to focus. Of course, you want to make sure the experience is responsive and caters to all platforms. But let’s be honest, if 80% of site traffic is coming from small tablets (iPad Mini perhaps), you can bet your buns I’ll be optimizing for that.
In this thought experiment, this means that we can expect the site to be viewed on smaller screens, perhaps on mobile networks (slower speeds) and maybe 1000px at a time. You may also need touch support, which might inform what elements you need or don’t need, or how they may react on different platforms.
You may not also be developing the website, but you should still think about how the site will render. The final render will help determine how much imagery or what type of layout you can or should use, and how much should be visible in the viewport at any given time.
From here I determine the client’s color palette and type choice. I NEVER ask them outright what colors or fonts they like. I want to make sure that Comic Sans and taupe aren’t in my new Style Guide, but I also want to ensure that we’re not ignoring any considerations for age or accessibility.
Asking what they love and hate might tell you that they like red or serif fonts. They might hate the color yellow and how the buttons look on their current site (so very Web 2.0).
It’s always helpful to gather a list of sites clients like. These tastes tell me a lot about how the client thinks and whether or not the things they like serve a purpose for their users in this case. I will almost always form a snapshot of the aesthetic the client likes. Contemporary, modern, fun, funky, sterile. It is up to me to determine whether or not it works for the website’s purpose, but how, based on the type of sites they like, information could be organized.
So you have an idea of how the site might look, but you need to figure out where the content’s coming from, who’s generating it, or who’s maintaining it.
If the site you’re designing has the same content as the old site, then you have a pretty good idea of what you’re working with. If they’re up for reworking the content, who’s generating it? This may tell you that you shouldn’t expect a lot of quality images, or long form text. If someone’s producing new content but not maintaining it after the project, who’s responsible for that? Hopefully, you’re designing a website that’s not entirely reliant on X number of images or X paragraphs of text for every page. This might be the case early on, but as the site ages or new content is added those numbers may change; so it’s always good to keep that in mind.
All sites, whether they be e-commerce website or informational, have some measure of success in the form of a conversion. For an e-commerce site, it’s sales. For a blog, it might be shares or newsletter subscriptions. For a community network, it’s signups. Conversions could count for something as simple as, “this page was viewed.” But you need to know how the client tends to expect users to use the site, so you can make it easy or define a flow.
Knowing the current process also provides a measure of success when you compare conversions to monthly visitors to a site. If 5% of visitors are converting as expected, chances are there’s something broken with the flow. Enter designer.
It’s good to know who you might be battling for attention, so you can design to stand out. Of course, it may not matter to the client, but it is always important for users. I wager that if you (the user) were presented with three websites all doing the same thing, there would be the site you dismiss because it feels out of date. Another site you dismiss because it tries too hard or doesn’t feel real (I tend to see most sites that use a theme as stock filling this bucket). Finally, there would be a site you select to use because it’s nicely designed, but clean and personal.
You can, in my opinion, consider any competitors that fill the first two buckets a non-issue. Though, this is speaking solely of design. Word-of-mouth still carries a lot of clout.
A client’s goals may change over time, but it’s good to ask how they expect to measure success from a new design. It could be increased conversions, higher site traffic, or simply happier users. In any case, knowing this is good because it may differ from question 10 above, but it’s equally important and for the same reasons.
I always ask this toward the end of a design discovery, as it comes after the client’s given some thought to the existing (or new) site.
Read the room of course. Sometimes these questions don’t garner confidence from the client, but I always ask something along these lines. What’s your favorite movie, song, food, sport, etc.? This can be directly related to the website being designed, based on some tangent the client introduced, or entirely unrelated. The reason I ask these types of questions is two-fold.
- It tells me something about the client that may help me inform or describe design decisions in a way that the client may jive with.
- It lets the client know that this process will be fun and not a chore. The design process should be taken seriously, no doubt, but it doesn’t have to be something you all slog through. Think of it as a game and everyone wins.
Take these and mold them to fit the client. Obviously, a new site design won’t have existing content, and they can’t hate or love a thing that doesn’t yet exist, but you could rephrase those to apply to your project or add your own.
Throughout the design discovery process, I rarely, if ever, ask direct design questions. Asking what they like is not the same as, “Do you like rounded or squared buttons?” These are also not things they should be thinking about. Keep the client at a high level at all times. They are paying you to design with their interests in mind, so those things are (and should be) up to you.
On a related note, you may receive negative feedback about your designs. It’s important to defend designs and inform the client of your intentions, but not criticize their “lack of design knowledge.”
- Explain to the client what you did, just in case they missed the purpose. Sometimes static designs can lose some of their intended flair in translation.
- Explain the purpose of the design decision and how it applies to their client or aligns with notes you took during discovery. It may be that there was a misunderstanding, but, perhaps more likely, the client was looking at the design personally and not as their user base. This is very easy to do, and I am guilty of it day-to-day.
If you’ve explained your reasoning and the client still pushes back, then it’s on to plan B. Hopefully the previous discussion about what, why, and how clarifies intent and informs a design revision without any negative feelings on either side.