One of the hardest parts of client work is finding the right clients. The trick to finding them is by asking the right questions.

I’ve written a lot about client process recently and one aspect that I’ve touched on a number of times is about asking the right questions. Since then, I’ve gotten several questions about about specifics. So I’m going to share the questionnaire that I use in my own client projects.

Asking the Right Questions at the Right Time

When and how you ask your client these questions is just as important as the questions themselves.

A mistake I made was putting all of the questions you’re about to read in my contact form as required fields. I thought this was a great way to filter out clients who weren’t serious. But then I stopped getting submissions altogether.

As important as these questions are, I was hitting my prospective clients over the head with a rigorous questionnaire. Some of these questions are hard to answer and are much better handled in a real-time discussion between you and your client — not your client and your contact form.

As a result, I cut down my contact form to 3 simple questions:

  • What kind of project do you have in mind? (Logo, product branding, apparel, etc?)
  • What does your organization do and why does it matter?
  • Is there any additional information that should be taken into consideration?

This is much more approachable and still captures some of the important details. It might not be as strong of a filter as the entire questionnaire, but you need to provide some value before someone invests a lot time in you.

Once you decide you’re going to take discovery to the next level, you can ask all the questions you want. Your client will love answering them and it shows them how serious you are.

So without further ado, here are the questions I ask every client and each one matters.

Section A: Initial Company/Organization Details

1. Organization Name or Project Piece (written exactly as it should appear)

You’re a professional lettering artist — what do they want you to write? Chances are, they’ll elaborate here and provide you with even more insight about the project. This sets the tone for the rest of the conversation.

2. What does your organization do and why does it matter?

This can be a challenging question for some people. Someone who is going to care about their project also needs to care about the organization’s endeavors. When they give you a firm and passionate answer, this is a good sign.

3. Who are your competitors? What sets you apart from them?

Having an idea of who they compete against gives you the information you need to research their industry in depth. Auditing their competitors for what is working and what is not can be a way for you to provide your client unique value.

Section B: Audience Details

1. Who is your target audience?

It is important to know who the target audience is because they are who you’re designing for — not your client.

2. What needs are your target audience bringing?

Having an understanding of who the target audience is isn’t enough. You need to know what what they need before you can speak to them in a way that provides them value.

3. How do people learn about your organization and where do they come from? (Local? Global?)

Along with their needs, having a solid understanding of the target audience’s acquisition points can help inform your design direction.

Section C: Goals and Project Demands

1. What does success look like for this project and how can failure be avoided?

Another tough one. To be honest, I saw this question on someone else’s questionnaire. And not many of my clients have been able to answer it confidently. So why ask it?

Even if the client can’t offer much here, it still gives you the opportunity to reaffirm your process. Tell them that you’ll be exploring these answers further and putting together the recommendations for the client to sign off on and the process you’ll be following thereafter. Show them what that process looks like so they can know what to expect when working with you.

2. Where do you see your business a year from now? Five Years?

A prospective client who is taking their business seriously should have a good idea of where they’d like to take their business in the future. Asking this question be very beneficial for you.

Understanding what the future of the client’s business looks like can help inform the design direction you take. How can you solve the client’s problems in a way that puts them in a better position to progress the company towards their future goals?

Additionally, you might also discover that the client needs more from you than they even realized.

3. What is the single most difficult thing in your business right now?

Figure out what their company is struggling with. You’ll be surprised by often this can apply to the work you’ll be doing as a designer. For example, if the client is trying to broaden their demographic reach, the colors and styles you choose can be a very relevant factor. Work their struggles into something you can address as part of the project criteria.

Section D: Project Details

1. Do you have any examples of the direction you have in mind for the piece stylistically?

If they answer this question in a way that indicates they have a very clear vision for the outcome, that can be a red flag. You don’t want to work with someone who is hiring you to implement their idea. You want them to hire you for your creative expertise. However, drumming up some inspiration can be a helpful conversation starter between you and the client to determine what aesthetics work and what don’t work.

2. Are there any colors you specifically wish to use or not use?

If your client hates the color blue, that’s not a reason to not use blue. But if the organization has branding guidelines, you’ll need to follow them. Using colors as design criteria that you need to work around can help inform design direction.

3. Where will this work be used?

The application of you work is very important. For example, if it’s going to be used at a small scale, you’ll know you need to design for legibility and avoid small intricate detail. Or if the design is going to be printed on something, you’ll need to work within the boundaries of print capabilities.

You also might want to consider licensing a design if the client is going to be using it as a product or in an advertisement that is continually generating revenue.

Multipurpose Questions

Beyond learning about the client and their project needs, some of these questions can also help you in other aspects of the project. The answers you receive should confirm whether or not a client is a good fit for your process. Most clients won’t be.

You can also use these questions as a way to uncover value. Your client may have come to you for a specific deliverable, but you might discover that they have additional needs when you ask these questions.

Iterate

Curate your questionnaire.

You might find yourself in a situation where you miss an important detail. Add this to the list of questions you ask so you don’t make the same mistake twice.

And as always, look for ways to strengthen what doesn’t work.