You’re at a commencement meeting. You’re either the lead designer or one with a leadership role on the project. It’s the first meeting with everyone in the room, and the client is droning on about their wishlist but all you do is take diligent notes (with some doodling on the side, of course). The last hour has been a real slog, and you’ve barely made a peep.
You’re bobbing your head up and down in agreement, barely making eye contact. You’ve been having some burning thoughts about the project, but you aren’t speaking up. But why aren’t you?
It’s likely that you were once lively in the conference room, always ready with questions and suggestions, but you were burned or turned down and that was that. Having been embarrassed in meetings, or putting all your energy into getting a project right, but having your ideas shoved out of the way without a moment’s hesitation, yeah, it can get pretty rough. But while it’s good to be an agreeable colleague, keeping your ideas unsaid is inefficient. When web design and development is concerned, contributing to the conversation is as essential as getting work done on time.
It’s Your Job
Asking good questions is the developer and the designer’s job. It helps you get a better handle of what your clients want, since not everyone knows the right way to illustrate their ideas. Not only are you supposed to create good output, but clients look to you to identify and understand their unstated needs.
Clients come to you to share their ideas, express their concerns and preferences, and it’s your job to help them to find the best design solution.
It’s About the End User
Contrary to what your client may believe, a website should end up more about what users want rather than what your client’s vision is. If you are in a company that does user and persona research, that’s good for you, but if you don’t have these resources, asking these types of questions can help you and the client better understand the target audience you are designing for.
Who do you anticipate will be using the site?
What will they accomplish by using your site?
What are their pain points?
Establishing the end user is important and once you do, ensure that the discussion flows in a way that addresses the concerns of the user instead of the client. Clients commonly operate on assumptions, which will be apparent when you hear sweeping generalizations from them. If a client says that users won’t like a particular design element, ask why in order to uncover the assumption. Who knows, it might be worth testing with actual users.
Keep Questions Open-ended or Meaningful
Avoid asking yes or no questions. Sticking to open-ended questions will net you more information about what the client really envisions, their major goals, and who the key players are. If something still isn’t clear to you, ask follow-up questions, or rephrase the same question until you get the answer you need.
If a client says the site mockup needs more images, aks what value will adding more images provide and for whom. You can also ask if:
- Which images are available
- If a photographer needs to be hired or not, and if no, then will stock photography be genuine enough for the audience
- Will stock photos convey the value the users are hoping for?
- If a discerning visitor sees the stock photos, will it affect his perception of the company?
If you’re not sure what the best question is, try asking generic questions like Why?, Could you please elaborate?, or Would you describe that for me? Use concise language, since you risk irritating your client with unclear questions.
Ticking People Off
Asking a lot of questions (which you should be doing) is sure to trigger some people, but don’t let it faze you; it’s nothing personal, and you’re only trying to get some essential clarity on important parts of the project. Explain that you’re asking all these questions so you truly understand the problem that you are all gathered there to solve, and explain that it will save a lot of time in the long haul.
Reading minds just isn’t possible with the technology we have right now, so asking tons of relevant questions is the next best thing to gaining clarity and understanding when collaborating on a project. But every second spent on it will make your work have much more meaning, and everyone involved will see the added value in the work you do.