Defining a Project: Model Website Design Questionnaire

A useful tool for obtaining basic initial information regarding a design job is a questionnaire. Let’s look at what such a document should include.

Obviously, there is no such thing as a universal questionnaire. Every job requires a slightly different point of view, and an emphasis on a slightly different set of particulars; also, all designers also have their own preferred way of asking questions about important things. Nonetheless, it is most likely possible to put together an overview of the information that should be found out for each and every job as soon as possible.

Let’s use the example of one of the most common jobs, designing a website. The following is my tried and tested list that includes the most common and important points we will need to know for the creation of most websites. For ease of orientation, it makes sense to group questions together into logical blocks. The questions and descriptions are in their final form, exactly the way in which I usually pose them to my clients. The text in italics, though, is for your eyes only, do not include it in any questionnaires you send to the client.

Basic information

  • Website type. Is it a presentation (of a company/product), or an online service? Is it a new website, or a relaunch of an existing one? This is a typical question to which we likely already know the answer. That is why we fill it out ourselves, but we should ask the client to confirm. Example: Based on your initial inquiry we assume that the task is to redesign an existing website. Its main purpose should be to showcase Globuli, introduce the company’s product range, offer access to their catalogue, and give the company’s contact details. Additionally, it should include a service enabling ball bearing parameter searches via the manufacturer’s name and serial number; this service should only be accessible to registered B2B partners. Is that accurate?
  • E-commerce. Will goods and services be offered for sale on the website? If yes, this will be followed up by additional questions regarding trade volume, payment channels, distribution channels, etc – more about this in upcoming articles.
  • Name. The name of your presentation or service. If the name has not been firmly decided yet, state what it would be called in an ideal world (regardless of whether the name is actually usable, whether it is already taken, etc).
  • Marketing claim. A short, one-sentence slogan describing your company’s or service’s vision, purpose, or goal.
  • Description. Please define your company / products / future service in a few sentences. Delete as appropriate.
  • Keywords. If you wanted to find your business in a search engine and did not know its name, what words/phrases would you use? Please list them in order of importance. One of the most essential inputs for future SEO and online marketing.

The purpose and goals of the website

  • Current state. How do you use the internet and social media today, and what would you like to change about it? Why do you want a new website / your existing website redesigned? Delete as appropriate.
  • Goal. What should be the primary objective of the website? What do you want to achieve by running it? We will pay good attention to this answer – not all clients know why they want a website and what they expect from it. Let’s try to get at least some sort of answer out of them by all means.
  • Target audience. Is the website for end users, or is it B2B? If for end users, describe as best as you can three typical/ideal visitors of your website – their profession, interests, income group, age, gender, limitations; as far as you know, also their typical technical equipment, such as internet connection quality, type of device, browser, etc. If for B2B, please describe your typical business partner.
  • Purpose. What problem can your website help its visitors resolve? Why will they want to visit it?
  • Extras. What are the additional, secondary goals of the website?
  • Ideal scenario. What, ideally, should a visitor do between entering the website and leaving it? What do you think is the optimal pathway they should take? Careful! This is quite a critical point, as many clients will put forward skewed and idealized ideas about their visitors’ behaviour. We have to take this answer with a pinch of salt, and we will almost always end up correcting it and explaining to the client that visitors of websites typically behave nothing like they imagine. But even a client’s skewed idea can give us a very valuable piece of input data.

Market and marketing

  • Existing business model. How do you acquire new customers at present, and what business channels do you use? What is your marketing model, and how do you use advertising?
  • Competitors. Which companies are your main competitors, and what is their primary marketing strategy? Are there online projects that you consider to be your future website’s direct competition? Have you formed an idea of what you, too, would like to include on your website, and what you definitely want to avoid?
  • Competitive advantage. Are you clear about what sets you apart from your competitors, what it is that makes you unique? Why will visitors want to choose you over a competitor?
  • Niche. Can you see a niche (a gap in the market) in your industry that no-one pays enough attention to, which your website could take advantage of? This opens a lot of space for us, and our own research can pay off significantly – based on it, we can offer the client market niches for their online business, which they might have had no idea even existed.
  • Monetization. Is your new website meant to generate profit? If so, how? An important point to clarify is whether there should be any advertising space at all, or potentially to redefine the priorities for the website’s entire concept.
  • Strategy. Do you have any idea of how (other than from search engines) visitors will come to your website?
  • Repeat visitors. Why will the visitors of your website want to come back? Do you any idea of how to make them want to revisit it?
  • Expectations. What will change for you once you the new website goes live? How long after its launch will you start to see some significant effects?

Website conception

  • Visual style. Do you have a logo ready, a visual style defined, or even a whole brand/corporate identity ready for the website? Are there any visual rules given, and can/should they be changed?
  • Negative definition. Are there any colours, visual styles, presentation types that you dislike? Are there any features you often see on the internet that you would definitely want to avoid?
  • Your inspiration. Please write down a list of five websites that you like, and state what is it about them that you think is attractive and inspiring.
  • Taboos. Is there anything that you definitely do not wish to publish on the website? Something you often see included on websites, but are not personally interested in – e.g. information about the company’s internal activities, photos of employees, references, contact details of employees/management etc.
  • Overall style. Should the overall feel of the website be somewhat conservative, or modern, unusual, conceptual, or even provocative or controversial? What is your perception of, and your relationship with, your customers – professional and serious, friendly or family-like, are they your equals/partners…? Would you like to set professional boundaries, or build a more personal relationship? This is a rather crucial piece of information: in case it is not clear enough, further consultation and particularization is necessary. Hardly any client has this clear in their mind, but unlike them, we must reach a point of clarity.

Technical matters

  • Existing website. Is there one? If so, to what extent should its structure be followed? Its style? Appearance? Content? Another question where we probably know the answer, so we will fill it in, and only ask the client to confirm.
  • Technical solution. Has a domain been purchased, web hosting? Will the platform and other elements of the existing technical solution change (or can it not be changed whatsoever)? If changes are possible, to what extent? Are only small modifications acceptable, or is it possible, for a good reason, to consider more substantial changes too?
  • Budget. What, roughly, is your budget for the development of the new website?
  • Deadline. By what date must the website be finished or launched? Are there deadlines for individual stages?
  • Decision-making. Who in your company will be in charge of the project, and who will be making the big decisions? How long will it take to make those decisions – a couple hours, a couple weeks? For us, this is a very important point, as it clearly tells us who our partner, the person we will be working with, is, and what time-scales to expect from the other side. It is equally important for our client, as they may not have been aware of such requirements at all. It is not unusual that it is this question which prompts the client to set aside such a person to work with us – without them doing so, all the key decisions within the development of the website could stall and drag on.
  • Content. Where will the website’s content come from, and who will supply it? To what extent can existing content be reused (if it exists)? Beware: many clients will automatically expect content delivery to be a part of our services, they do not give it any thought at all, and it is only this question that will prompt them to at least consider the method of content creation.
  • Responsiveness. How should your website behave at different sizes and on different devices? What should be the threshold for behaviour change? What will be the rules for different devices– e.g. different navigation logic, simplified content, or certain components hidden on mobile etc.
  • Language mutations. What will be the website’s primary language? Will it have other language mutations? Will content be identical for all languages, or should it vary?
  • Photos. If marketing/product photos will be needed for the website, do you have professional-quality digital photos readily available? Will there be a photoshoot, or are stock photos to be purchased? Again, frequently a point of friction that some clients give no thought to. They see the visual component of the site as something automatic, and it escapes them that it is hard to build a stunning e-shop with their existing shoddy photos, or that stock photographs are, alas, not free (as some still seem to think). Same goes for videos or other multimedia, if relevant.
  • Updates. Do you have any plans for how often and to what extent the content of the website will change? Who will be in charge of that, how will it be done, and are there enough resources and time allocated?
  • Administration. Who will administer the website, and will they have enough time set aside? That’s something you will be doing, no? Is it in the contract? Oh…
  • Limitations. Are you aware of any standards, limitations, rules, and regulations, that your website should be compliant with? For example, ones arising from applicable laws, accessibility rules, technical limitations, company policy, etc.

Anything else…

  • To finish off, it is important to give the client space to mention or expand on anything else they deem important that our interview (or questionnaire) failed to mention. Whenever I send the questionnaire over to my client to fill out, I always add the field “Other” or “Anything else”, and give them enough space to respond. It is not unusual that this brings up issues that had not occurred to us in our initial analysis, but can be of crucial importance for our client. A meeting with a follow-up discussion can be equally fruitful.

It is impossible to say whether it is better to interrogate the client and fill out the questionnaire together, or to send it to them and let them do it on their own. In general, meeting in person tends to be better, but there are several risks attached. Firstly, it is not so easy to learn to ask questions impartially and avoid influencing the client with leading questions and ideas that spring to mind. Secondly, we will not always be talking to the most competent person for the task. Had the client been sent the questionnaire to fill out, maybe it would have found its way to someone better suited, and we could have gotten more relevant information. In short, before we start, we must carefully think through – for this specific job and situation – not only what to ask and why, but also who to ask and how. By the way, business is usually done quite differently with a small client compared to a huge corporation, differently when representing a big design studio and when acting as a freelance web designer.

Either way – at this point, we should have received from the client all the basic information we need as input for further work. That will now consist of conducting further research and investigations, and then, based on all that we have discovered, we will proceed to put together the actual project specifications.