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At the Beginning of the Creative Design Process, Ask Your Client These Questions

January 21, 2022 | Productivity

Questions aren’t just for inquisitive kids, they can serve a real purpose for designers. Asking questions about the design brief and really listening to what your clients have to say shows that you value their needs and opinions, care about the success of the design, and are taking the project seriously. Not only will asking questions early in the creative design process put your clients at ease, but their answers will also serve as a guide for your work. When you know exactly what the client wants from the start, you can save a great deal of time, energy, and revisions. 

11 Essential Questions To Ask At The Beginning Of The Creative Design Process:

What Is Your Mission? 

A company’s mission, their core values, should inform everything that company does, including what design collateral they release into the world. Understanding your client’s mission will help ensure that the work you create is aligned with those values. This is especially important for designs that have a political angle, as you’ll want to be sure the message you’re communicating is a message the client adamantly agrees with. 

What Are You Trying To Achieve? 

Say you’re working on a website refresh for a client. Your work will end up looking vastly different if their goal is to increase brand awareness versus if their goal is to get more people to sign up for their newsletter or drive more engagement with their blog. 

Before starting the creative design process, you’ll want to clarify what exactly the client is hoping to get out of the work. By gathering this information, you’ll be better equipped to create a design that accomplishes everything the client wants; you’ll know what objectives you’re supposed to meet, so if the work doesn’t end up meeting them, you can make adjustments without having to use up a round of revisions on them. To further clarify goals, you can even ask the clients to rank them by priority. 

What Are Your Expectations? 

Clients sometimes forget that you have a limited amount of time and resources, and you can only allocate so much to the project. When they do, scope creep can set in. This occurs when the client ends up asking the artist to commit more to the project than they initially signed up for,  whether that be more deliverables, rounds of revision, complexity, etc. To prevent this from happening, you’ll want to get a solid idea of what their expectations are for the project, which will also provide you with an opportunity to kindly stamp down any unrealistic expectations they may have. (Example: I’m sorry, but the flyer might look a little cramped if we include the company names of all 400 event sponsors.)

Do You Have Any Past Creative You Like Or Dislike? 

A great way to determine what direction to take the design in is to first see what type of work the client tends to like or dislike. Take a look at what they’ve done in the past, what worked about it, what didn’t, and what elements the client wants to retain or change. It can also help to look at competitors’ and industry leaders’ work during this stage of the creative design process. By getting a better idea of the tone and voice behind the work your client likes, you’ll be able to see how the client wants the brand to be perceived. And not only will asking about work the client likes and dislikes clarify what they want to see from your design, but it will also give you insights into how they may be assessing your work. 

Who Is This For? 

How effective your design is will depend on how much it resonates with the people it’s meant for. So, ask your client who those people are. Are they old or young? What gender do they identify as? What culture or religion do they belong to? What is their average income level? Where are they physically located? For instance, if you’re designing collateral to market a beach resort, the work will look very different depending on who it’s for; for older folks, you may want to focus on the relaxing elements of the resort, while for a younger crowd, you may choose to focus on the activities and nightlife instead. 

When defining your audience, perhaps even more important than demographics, however, is psychographics, who your target is based on their activities, interests, and opinions. This will help you understand the “why”: what’s driving their decision to purchase (or whatever you are hoping to achieve with the work). People don’t buy furniture because they are women in their 30s, they buy furniture because they recently bought a home, enjoy decorating, etc. 

What Style Are You Looking For? 

The client might have a pretty solid idea of what they are looking for in the work, and this question gives them the opportunity to share their thoughts early on in the creative design process. That being said, “style” is a difficult word to define, and clients may need a little assistance to fully answer this question. To help them clarify exactly what they want style-wise, you could follow this question up with a few more: do you want a clean look? Are you looking for something dynamic? Do you want hand-drawn illustrations? Are you looking for something bold and blocky? etc. Of course, it’s important not to get too technical here, as they may not be familiar with industry jargon. 

Do You Have Any Reference Images For Inspiration? 

Reference images can be extremely useful for designers — they can help you quickly assess the style, colors, and overall look and feel the client is seeking. To get even more from these images, you can ask what exactly the client likes about them, and if there are any aspects they don’t care for.

What Elements Must The Design Have? 

Whether it’s a positive message, interactivity, or certain colors, some clients will have specific requirements for the design you may not think to include. Asking this question early in the creative design process will ensure you don’t accidentally neglect any of these essential features, which could have a major impact on the design as a whole. For instance, if they need the company name to be included in the logo, but you design them a pictorial mark instead, you might end up having to start from scratch.

How Will You Use The Design? 

Where the artwork is going to be used (location, medium, size, etc.) could have a huge impact on how effective the design is. Complex logos won’t turn out great when printed in small formats, and designs with a paragraph of text don’t make great billboards — people driving by won’t have time to actually read them. 

How Should We Communicate? 

Some clients prefer a more hands-off approach to communication, while others want to be involved in every step of the creative design process. It’s best to find out which camp they fall into early on in your relationship so you can communicate with them at the frequency they prefer. However, the frequency of communication is only one piece of the puzzle. You should also ask them their preferences on:

  • The file formats they want updates in
  • The communication channel (email, slack, software, over the phone, etc.)
  • The time of day they prefer communication to occur
  • Who should be given updates

When Do You Need This? 

And finally, you’ll need to know when the project is due so you can plan accordingly (plus, asking this question gives you the chance to set realistic expectations). When choosing the deadline, make sure to factor in the time it will take you to work on your other projects, revisions, and leave a little wiggle room for unforeseen roadblocks. 

Navigate Client Feedback Better With Ashore

Asking questions can go a long way in clarifying what exactly a project needs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the first piece you present to the client will be exactly what they’re looking for. In most situations, the creative design process will involve at least a few rounds of revision. When you manage those rounds of revisions in Ashore, everything runs much more smoothly. In fact, our users average just 1.61 rounds of revision. 

Ashore offers automated notifications, reminders, and threaded comments to streamline communication, proof timelines to keep your project on track, and contextual commenting, ensuring that feedback is direct and actionable. Best of all, you can customize the experience. Use your own logo on all review screens and emails, send emails from your own account, create a custom domain with your own website, and white-label any review links you create in Ashore. 

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