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The Lost Files – The Ultimate Web Design Questionnaire And Checklist (part 1 of 8)

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What this chapter is all about: Choosing clients and working wisely. Proposals and preparation. Presenting your work. Building a website. Design checklists: Typography, Navigation, Forms, Content quality, Accessibility, Website speed, Security, SEO, Quality assurance, Testing, Ultimate launch checklist.

The difference between a great website and a mediocre one lies in communication. Your client might think they’re in charge of creating the website, but they’d be wrong: you are. Your job is to carefully craft your communication with them so that you can guide them, inform them of their responsibilities and meet their expectations. It also means that they should understand both the time and budget implications of any changes they request.

If you are well organized and stringent with your communications strategy from the very beginning, you will encounter fewer obstacles to doing your best work, and you will more likely have a satisfied client. Along the way, you will deal with the staggering amount of requirements for the modern website. Accessibility, cross-browser and cross-device compatibility, SEO and usability all have to be implemented properly.

So, here are some questions to ask prospective clients to make sure you get good ones, as well as hundreds of questions to ask at every stage of the process of making a website. The more items you can check off, the better the website will be.

Stage 1: Choosing a Client

Even if you’re struggling for work, you don’t have to take on every client who asks you to work with them. The key to being happy is to make sure at the very beginning that the client is a good fit. Sometimes, using an email questionnaire is helpful because you’ll have a record of their answers. If you do it over the phone or in person, take notes. If you don’t take good notes, ask them if they would mind you recording the conversation. When you get back to your desk, type out a summary of the points covered and send it to them for confirmation.

Questions to Ask

1. What excites you about this project?

Why ask this first? Because clients often don’t know how to frame their expectations and goals, and getting a sense of their personality is difficult when they describe the rote version of what their company does. Your job is to break them out of their corporate-speak and help them formulate a vision for the website right from the start.

2. Tell me briefly about your company.

Now that you’ve got them excited, get them to describe their business. Get a feel for the structure of the company, what it sells and its successes and failures. Learn about its existing websites, too. At this point, find out who your main contact will be, how much authority they will have and who will ultimately sign off on your work.

3. What makes your product better than those of competitors?

Look for a unique selling point here. You want them to tell you what makes their product so good and why customers should buy it instead of the competition’s. If they’re not sure where to start, ask some probing questions. How is your customer care different? Is pricing important? Do you have better distribution?

4. What emotions do customers feel when using your product? What would you like them to feel?

Emotions are the key to marketing, and here you’ll get a sense of which emotions customers currently feel and which ones the client wants them to feel. Customers right now might feel “comfortable” with the product, but the client would like them to consciously “trust” the product.

5. Describe your goal for this project in less than 10 seconds?

You’ve got them thinking about their vision. You’ve asked about their company and, by analyzing their competitors, found out what makes it unique. You also got them to think about their goals and the emotional state of their customers. Now it’s time to bring these together and formulate goals that are realistic and appropriate.

Learn about the client’s main reasons for commissioning the website, their business objectives, their measure for success (for example, a 15% increase in conversion rates) and current problems with the website.

Getting them to clearly express their goals is critical. If they are merely “bored” with the current design, then probe further to truly understand their goals and why they feel a refresh would help. This understanding will be the anchor for further discussion about features and will give you a basis for defending your decisions later in the process.

6. What products and services are required to achieve these goals? What is the minimum required to achieve them?

After leading the client through their goals, now is the time to determine their Web strategy. Many clients are enthusiastic about the website early on but don’t understand the time and costs required to deliver one (we have CSI partly to thank for these unrealistic expectations of technology).

Are they looking for a simple website or a full content management system? Why? Will they need banners? A logo? Why? Does the website need to work on mobile devices? Why? Of course, sometimes clients don’t exactly know what they want, and your job is to educate them but also temper their enthusiasm. If you listed all of your services, most would say, “Oh, that would be great,” but not every project needs all the bells and whistles. Talk to them about their goals for their campaign, and decide what would be a good “phase one” for the project.

7. Let’s talk time frames.

When do they want to start? Are they ready now? Do they have a firm deadline? Some clients will be planning a fully integrated campaign across mainstream media, in which case the time frames cannot be adjusted. Others will want it up yesterday because they’ve neglected it for too long and have now decided that they need to get it up right away. Usually, there are no fires to put out, and you can talk to them objectively about why they think they need it right away and then determine realistic time frames.

At this point, you will have to decide whether you have the time to fit this client in. If you don’t have the resources for the website or their expectations aren’t realistic (which is why you’re doubling the estimate in your head), then you should let them know right away that you cannot do it. Promising what you cannot possibly deliver will only leave you with a bad reputation and an angry client.

8. Let’s talk money.

No client wants to talk about a budget at this point, and if you do ask, they’ll usually bounce the question right back. A ballpark budget enables you to tell them what they can get. If they ask how much x, y and z will cost, give them a range: “Depending on the level of customization, it could be anywhere between [insert mid-range amount] and [insert high?but not too high?amount].” If you find out at this point that their expectations are unrealistic, at least you haven’t spent hours putting together proposals, and you can exit quickly without much heartache.

Knowing how much you want to charge for different types of projects before speaking to clients is important. Make up a pricing sheet (you don’t have to provide it to clients), with budget ranges for different types of projects and features. It will give you confidence when speaking to clients; sales-oriented clients will often try to bargain you down. If you’re no good at negotiating, then just say that you don’t offer discounts.

Giving them a payment schedule is also important. You might feel uncomfortable doing this, but you are doing business after all, and conducting yourself professionally and discussing contracts and money gives you the professional air that you will need to be taken seriously. Also let them know at this point that you need a deposit up front. Some clients will balk at this, so state that it’s just the way you do business: no compromise.

Equity. Some clients will propose to pay in equity. Warning bells should go off: most start-ups fail. Perhaps their project will succeed, and their desire for you to be a part of that is great. If you think it’s a good idea, make an agreement by which you are paid mostly in money and partly in equity. You want to be sure that they value your time and are aware of how many hours you put in. Start-ups have no money, and if you are basically working for free, then they will probably not be stringent with the scope, and feature creep will set in quickly.

Being paid in equity would be particularly problematic if you wanted to leave the project. For example, say you have been working on the project for six months and have released four versions of the product; the product is effective, but you’d like to seek out new clients. Or perhaps you just can’t stand working for the client any longer. Getting out when equity is involved is painful.

Exchange of services. Sometimes a client has skills that you need for a project of your own (for example, you the designer might need a developer). You could easily propose working for an hour on their project for every hour they work on yours. This would work for some, but not everyone. If you have worked with the person before and are comfortable with them, then go for it. The problem is when you have to enforce the agreement. What happens if the developer is unhappy with your design? You have no protection if they decide not to use it. Make sure you have in writing what will happen if the relationship falls apart.


You’re good to go if:

  • Their business sounds interesting
  • They have a unique proposition
  • Their goals are realistic and make sense for the product
  • They have already defined a chain of approval
  • You are capable of providing the services they want
  • They have realistic expectations of what you can do
  • You have the time to fit them in
  • They specify a budget range that you’re happy with

Politely decline if:

  • They’ve worked with many different agencies, none of which understood their vision
  • They want to do everything all at once and won’t compromise
  • They need to launch next Monday
  • They are unwilling to pay up front
  • They ask for a steep discount because “they will be giving you so much more business”
  • They want to pay you solely in equity

← Where Are We Going? (6/6)41TOC5263


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