You've beaten off the competition and are ready to start designing a shiny new website for your client. Awesome. But now what? Of course it's tempting to dive straight into the fun part (aka the design process) but first there are a few things it's worthwhile seeking definition on. Here are a few things to put to your new best friend:

1. Why do you want a new website?
Before you can understand your client's customers motivations, you need to understand their own.

The funny thing is that clients don't always have an answer to this question. They might want a new site because of a perceived need to keep up with their competitors (who just got an all-singing all-dancing new site), or because someone new in the marketing department is flexing their muscles, or simply because they need to spend a chunk of money they've been allocated before the end of the financial year. 

Whilst we're on the subject of why, there's a technique called "The 5 Whys" (which Toyota created to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem) which is handy to bear in mind at this stage in the process. Whatever the client's answer to "why do you want a new website" may be, you're probably going to have to ask several more "whys" to get to the root of their motivations.

So, keep asking why. (But not this much).

2. Who is your website trying to reach? 
Now, some people will advocate taking the answer to this question and creating user personas from it, like "Steve is a stylish city worker in his mid twenties who likes classic cars and browses websites from an Android tablet in his Shoreditch apartment".

Frankly though, I think this is bullshit.

Creating fictional characters isn't going to help you to understand the REAL PEOPLE who are already part of your client's world.

Be all ears when your client is talking about who the new website is for, take notes, identify the types of people who are currently or might be using the site, just don't feel obligated to make new people up along the way. 

3. What do you want these people to do when they get to your website? 
Yes, this is about defining calls to action. But it is also much more than this. As Seth Godin puts it:

The goal is to create design that takes the user's long-term needs and desires into account, and helps him focus his attention and goals on accomplishing something worthwhile.

That well-designed prescription bottle, for example, is well-designed because it gets you to take your medicine even when you forget or don't feel like it. If that wasn't the goal, then a cheap Baggie would do the job.

And that well-designed web site doesn't encourage aimless clicking and eventual ennui. Instead, it pushes the user to come face to face with what's on offer and to decide (hopefully) to engage.

What the client wants from their website and what its users want are two different things. Your job is to find the sweet spot in the middle. It might not be a very big one, but it's there... somewhere... 

4. How are you going to promote the new site? 
There are several reasons to ask this question. But the main one is that it will help you to gauge how serious the client is about the process they are about to undertake. If there are omissions or gaping holes in their plan, it could be an opportunity for you to get more work from them — maybe there's potential to create printed collateral or even an event to mark the launch of the site for example. 

5. How will you know if the new site has been successful? 
This is another question which can elicit blank stares from a client. If they are not already familiar with the use of analytics platforms like Google Analytics and KISSmetrics, now is your chance to educate them. This is going to boil down to metrics, if not to do with the site itself, then related things like sales targets. If your client isn't measuring these, you won't be able to either. (And the more facts and figures you have to hand, the easier it will be to create a brilliant case study about the website after it goes live).

6. When do you want to launch the new site?
Does the client have any specific deadlines? Or maybe an event they want the launch to coincide with? Finding out sooner rather than later will make your job a lot less stressful. And if, on backwards from the deadline, you'll probably find that you needed to start the site a few weeks ago, look at this as an opportunity rather than a problem. You can usually split the project into phases to help you meet the deadlines (And sometimes the things which have to get dropped, which the client thinks are absolutely crucial, never make it back onto the site again. Hallelujah).

7. Do you have a domain name (and hosting) in place yet?
If I had a penny for every job which has been held up by hosting or domain problems, I'd be... well... I'd have a pocket full of change. It may seem like a trivial detail but these things almost always take longer to get sorted than you expect. Even with bigger clients who should (in theory) be better placed to make the necessary arrangements, the process can be slowed by the extra bureaucracy involved in getting approval on costs and the like. So, get the hosting requirements out in the open as early as possible.

8. Who is going to populate the new site with content? Do you have a content plan?
Whoever this person is that's responsible for this side of things, you want them on your side. And you're probably going to have to teach them how to use the content management system for the site as well. If they don't have a content plan, well, that's something for another article, but in the meantime send them here.

Posted to graphic-design in 2013.

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