Nobody likes asking difficult questions, more so when it comes to hiring others to perform a specialized skill or service for us.
We typically hope to just find the best person, within our budget, and have them take care of everything. However, questioning potential clients in the design industry is vitally important to understanding the clients needs, and goals. However, there’s much more to it than that.

When I first started Freelancing…

I began freelancing full time almost seven years ago. When a project inquiry came through to my inbox, I’d immediately hit my reply button and ask the sender a few quick questions like “what’s your design budget?” and “do you have any existing brand materials I can see?”. Shortly after figuring out what this company or person did (or so I thought) I’d send them an estimate for their project and want to get started as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the majority of these in queries never turned into projects, and for about two years I had to actively seek new clients as a means to bring in new projects. I was completely overlooking the opportunity to fully understand the clients needs, goals and business. Through trial and error of asking over fifty diffident questions, I’d come up with around ten really important questions that were landing me more projects, and helping me understand my clients and their goals much more effectively so that I could decide which projects were worth perusing. Here’s what I think are the best questions to ask a client before you begin a design project.

1. What will a successful completion of this project look like to you?

If a client can’t determine if working with you was a success for their business or brand, then should they should have hired you to begin with?

Products need to sell, invitations need to bring guests, websites need to convert, sales need to increase, etc… Your clients need to know that the cost of your design services are an investment. As such, we need to make sure that we are creating something for the client that provides them with what they actually need, which leads me on to my next question.

2. Why do you need this project?

It’s important for us as designers to understand why the client needs this project. This helps us understand what they are targeting as an end goal, and what has lead them to make the decision to hire a professional to help them complete this project.

Let’s imagine you have a project inquiry to design a label for a beer company. The client tells you that they need to update the look of their beer label because sales are declining and they automatically presume that the look and style of their beer label isn’t attractive enough, or seems cheap and low quality reflecting badly on their beer. In reality, the beer could be terrible, too expensive, too cheap, or perhaps people are just not buying their product during a season when the client has made an inquiry? There’s literally hundreds, if not, thousands of reasons that their product could not be selling, and it’s on us as designers to delve into what’s happening with regards to a decrease in sales. From there, we have to ask ourselves if we can improve their situation through design, and how we will do that.

3. What’s your design timeline and budget?

This is probably the core question in knowing if you can take on a project from a potential new client, or even an existing one. It’s no use for us to start asking questions about a clients goals, design preferences, etc.. without knowing if we can work to their deadline or budget. Additionally, knowing if your client has a design budget can help you determine if you’re coming in too high or too low for the type of project they need completed. This can save both you and the client time by knowing if the project is worth perusing and creating a proposal or an estimate for them. Also, this may allow you to flex on a price you have in mind because the project could be great for your portfolio or experience in a certain target market that you may not get to work in often. Obviously this is down to your discretion.

4. Do you have existing materials or a brand guideline?

When designing for an existing and established business or brand, it’s important to stay consistent with their brand identity. Now, this could be a downfall if their current identity is horrible, but it’s our job as a designer to help improve upon that, and problem solving through visual design is what we do best, so it’s imperative to help guide a client into making smart choices that breathe freshness into their branding, but don’t differ completely making them unrecognizable to their current audience.

If the client already has good branding and/or a brand guideline, it’s important to know what has to stay consistent across all mediums, and what allows for play and deviation in their brand. Above all else, a happy client is one of the best ways to measure your own success with a project, but be sure to help guide them with difficult design decisions and offer your professional experience whenever you can.

5. Who is your ideal customer/consumer?

Projects all vary from each other, and as such so do your clients customers and consumers. It’s obviously important that your client understands who their customers are, but it’s equally important for you to understand them too. Going back to my beer label example above… There’s no use in designing a brands new product label that is intended to be consumed by adults while having a childish design that looks like a kids T.V cartoon. Maybe this is a rather crass example, but you get the point. We should know who the clients is targeting and understand that we should be designing with that type of consumer or customer in mind, while remaining consistent with the current brand. These are branding basics that I briefly covered in The Importance Of Self Branding. Without consistency, a brand identity gets lost and has a greater chance to be forgotten as there’s no real memorable quality to how they look among other reasons.

6. What emotion or message do you want to convey?

After all the questioning of your client, some things may still be unclear or patchy information may make the project a little difficult to understand. This happens mostly when clients find it difficult to explain themselves creatively or lack any kind of creative input on the project goals. These types of clients can be difficult to work with, but not because they’re bad clients. It’s up to you as the designer to single out additional information that you need to complete your clients project effectively. If the client finds it hard to answer some or all of the previous questions, then asking them what emotion or message they want customers/consumers to pick up on or feel can help you understand the direction that your design will need to focus on. Sometimes asking a client who their ideal customer is, does;t quite get you the answer you may be looking for. If anything, by asking what emotion or message the client is trying to portray helps cement or clarify your current creative thoughts on the project. It may turn out that you’ve been overthinking the what the client needs when they are looking for something simple, clean, and minimal.

7. What designs don’t you like?

It may seem quite obvious at this point what the client does and doesn’t want you to create in your design, but surprisingly enough – some clients have completely turned my thought process around when i’ve asked them what designs they do and don’t like. I recently had a logo project where my client was wanting me to create a retro 80’s inspired logo for their video production website. While we were communicating via email, I began piecing together some inspirational ideas on a Pintrest board. A few emails later, I had to scrap the board and start searching for less grainy and laser-like imagery for my inspiration and look for something that had a modern neon and chrome twist to the retro style of the text back then. I could have wasted a lot of my own time and my clients by not taking the time to fully understand what their design likes and dislikes were on behalf of that project.

Did I miss something?

I hope you found some use to this list. These are just a few of the questions I personally like to ask my potential clients. Sometimes I don’t need to ask that many, sometimes I may ask more. If you have any questions you think I missed that are important, or you just want to share your opinions and feedback, please feel free to comment on and share this post.