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The Lost Files – The Ultimate Web Design Questionnaire And Checklist (part 2 of 8)

← Choosing a Client (1/8)41TOC5263

Stage 2: Getting the Proposal Right

You’re feeling confident about this client. The budget sounds good. The project sounds interesting, and you’re ready to put a proposal together so that you can get started. Consider asking these follow-up questions before writing the proposal.

Most clients could produce a business brief. These briefs are loaded with jargon about market share and fiscal futures, which all matter but don’t help the Web designer write a good proposal. Building on the questions from the previous section, you need to get more detail about the project and get a feel for the client’s strategy and market.


1. Describe your typical customer.

When you’re speaking to the client, remind them of the goals you’ve discussed. Ask them what emotions they want to evoke, and then ask them to describe their typical customer. What do they do for a living? What do they do for fun? What are their friends like? Do they drive? If so, what car do they have? Ask for specifics that paint a picture of this customer.

And then ask why. Why is the customer a woman? Why is she in her late 40s? Why does she like knitting? Finding out why they have specified certain character traits will advance your understanding of how the client perceives their target market. Suggest that they give this woman a name.

2. Imagine how your typical customer would interact with your website in an ideal world.

Ask them to start at the beginning. Did they search on Google? Did they learn of the product on another website? From there, get them to walk you through the interactions on the website. Remind them of their goals, and have them explain how these interactions support those goals.

3. What is the fewest number of steps required to achieve these goals. Can it be done in less than 30 seconds?

Most clients don’t understand that they are limited by the amount of time and attention people are willing to give to a website. Most customers will leave if they cannot scan and immediately find what they want. Explain that most people have a very short attention span on websites and that results need to be immediate: instant gratification.

Try to align their thinking with the way websites work. If a task can’t be completed in less than 30 seconds, discuss with them how they could reduce the number of steps and clarify the process. Offer suggestions to simplify the flow of information.

Also help them remove barriers to entry, such as signing in, registering and filling out forms. Asking them to reflect on how they feel when they have to fill out forms themselves will give them a better context for understanding why these barriers should be removed.

4. What is your target market? What market share do you have now?

Now that they have thought about the user, get them to zoom out to their target market. Ask for hard figures and traffic numbers if available.

5. Is market share your main indicator of success?

If so, what effect do you hope these changes we’re making will have on your market share within a year? If not, how will you measure success? They may not know the answers, but what you’re looking for is a flexible, realistic view of how they will judge whether the project is successful.

These goals will also be important when you test the product and experiment with new features. You have to continually remind the client that it’s not about what they like, but about what their customers like. Remind them also that a website alone does not translate into paying customers; discuss their broader strategy for achieving their goals. Make clear that while your job is to build the website, their job is to bring in the customers.

6. How will people find out about your company?

Having the perfect website is all well and good, but if no one knows about it, then it won’t matter. Many do not know much about how search engines work, and you’ll have to explain that rising in Google rankings by sticking around a long time and attracting legitimate links from major websites is a big job that calls for specialized skills. Talk with them about the basics, and ask about their advertising budget. Some companies don’t fully grasp the concept of “visibility,” but if they seem genuinely interested in working on it, recommend an SEO partner for them. You will also want to learn about any print campaigns they have planned and meet the people responsible for producing that collateral.

7. How do you plan to get repeat visitors?

Here you’ll get a feel for their marketing strategy. Things like blog posts, email newsletters and direct sales are all great ways to get people to come back. The client might just want people to return so that they can get their contact details, and that’s okay, too. The objective is to find out what kinds of features they will need to get people to come back.


1. What do you need… really? How will you achieve your goals?

It’s time to finally decide on what features you plan to build, based on realistic expectations. If the client gets carried away, then break it down into phases, starting with the basics. Go through each feature with them, and prioritize it with a number. Then speak with them about what you’d like to accomplish within their time frame and budget. Then, ask them how this feature will help them achieve the goals they’ve laid out.

Make it an obvious stopping point, where you can step back to gather data about whether the strategy is working. Suggest that you build until you reach feature x, launch, and then gather data for y amount of time to discover what is working and what isn’t.

For example, if they’re building an e-commerce store, set up a simple payment path and check-out. Keep it simple. Let them sell for three months, and ask customers for feedback about the purchasing process. If you find out that customers much prefer the experience on Amazon, then at least you haven’t wasted time building features that aren’t needed.

Go through all of the steps. The client often won’t know about everything involved in making a website. Talk to them about testing, copywriting, search engine optimization, marketing, systems administration and any other relevant tasks you can think of. Find out if they have plans for these. They might not realize that they need a systems administration solution to keep the website from going down. If you don’t offer such services, then recommend a reliable provider.


1. What have you already got?

While being involved in the whole visual strategy starting from a blank canvas is great, the client will likely already have some things made.

Logo. Are they happy with their current logo? Are the source files available (in vector format)? How established is the brand? Do they want to change it? If so, how? If not, what about the branding should remain consistent?

Content. They might already have a website and spent some time writing content. They might also have worked on wireframes and made other preparations. Finding out now how much they’ve done and whether it was done properly is critical. If it wasn’t done properly, then it will need to be redone, and this needs to be factored into your budget and time frame.

Content management system. Many large companies have bulky old systems. That’s fine, but find out whether your new system will need to fit on top of the old one or whether you can use the technology of your choice as a standalone solution. Trying to integrate with an old system can take longer than starting from scratch, and you might have to work with technologies and follow methodologies that you have never used before. Make sure you budget for plenty of trouble-fixing, and be aware of the limitations of older technologies.

2. Will I be part of a team? If so, who are the other members, and what are their roles? Who will manage the team?

The team makes or breaks a project. Find out who is doing the copywriting, the development (if you aren’t) and more. Identify the key players, and obtain their contact details.

Once you’ve identified the team, find out what the role of the manager is. Have they set up a time line yet? If certain tasks depend on the completion of others, make it clear that missed deadlines by others will affect your time line.

3. What is your level of technical expertise? Have you done a project like this before?

You might know the answer to this without asking, but it’s always good to hear it said. For example, if they are running a social media campaign, find their Twitter profile and spy on them. If they have fewer followers than you, then you’ll know that you are the social media expert in this relationship. If they have never built a website before, you’ll have to spend a lot of time educating them, and you will bear more responsibility for organizing the project.

4. How much time do you have to dedicate to generating content?

This may seem like a strange question, but it’s one of the most important you can ask. How many company blogs out there sit empty, with no posts after the first month? If they want their content channels to be updated regularly, then they have to be sure they have the time to do that. Otherwise, they should reconsider launching features such as a blog and Twitter feed, because neglecting them will do no good for their image. If they plan to launch a service that requires significant resources, then they will need to build an infrastructure to enable and support it. The client has to be committed to the project.

5. What browser do you use? What browsers will you support? Will the website be viewed on mobile devices?

If they are still using Internet Explorer 6 at the office, then you will have to support it. Ask them about the average customer who will visit their website. Clients with predominantly corporate customers will need to support older browsers. If they are targeting the young and tech-savvy, then you can suggest bypassing those browsers. This is also a good time to talk about graceful degradation and see how keen they are to offer value-added features for the latest browsers (and so that you can have some fun with the latest CSS).

Then you’ll need to talk about mobile devices. Many clients don’t understand that you have to optimize websites for these devices and that this takes time. Find out what the client expects. Are mobile apps required for Android, iPhone, iPad and so on? How should the website appear on mobile devices?

Pre-Proposal Checklist

You’re good to go if:

  • Their target customer is realistic, given the marketplace
  • They have refined their web experience to match current browsing habits
  • They have aligned their expectations for this project to be realistic
  • They have a strategy for traffic that is manageable and realistic
  • You have nailed down a set of features that you are both happy with
  • They have a plan for systems maintenance, SEO, marketing and more
  • You have a clear picture of your role on the team
  • You have a clear view of which services require which technologies

Politely decline if:

  • They wish to target 100% of the population, with 95% penetration 
  • They expect you to be responsible for driving sales on the website
  • They don’t want to pay extra but expect you to help them with marketing and SEO
  • They want a particular feature but don’t have the time to build the infrastructure or to support it
  • You’ve seen their existing content management system, and it looks anything but reasonable
  • They want the website to look and behave the same in every browser, no exceptions

← Choosing a Client (1/8)41TOC5263


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