Nov 27 2009

How To Create The Perfect Client Questionnaire

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Discovering what your clients really want is one of the most fundamental steps in creating a good working relationship. If you can figure out exactly what your clients want for their website up front, it will save both of you time and frustration later.

Creating a client questionnaire isn’t complicated, though it can be a bit time-consuming if you don’t know where to start. You have to think about who your clients are and what information you need from them, and then go from there. Below is a complete guide to creating a custom questionnaire for your design business. And be sure to check out 45 Incredibly Useful Web Design Checklists and Questionnaires for some examples.

Why You Need A Questionnaire

A client questionnaire serves two purposes. The first is to figure out what the new website should achieve. The second is to figure out what the client wants the website to look like.

Both of these things are very important to find out up front. By figuring out what your client wants and needs, you can avoid delivering something to them that doesn’t fit the direction in which they want to take their website.

Without a good client questionnaire, you could end up having to repeatedly go back to your client throughout the project to get more information or clarification on what they really want. You could also waste a lot time designing and coding things that aren’t quite what the client is looking for. A good questionnaire removes a lot of the guesswork in designing and makes it a better experience for both parties.

Formulating Your Questions

Your questions should get to the root of your client’s needs. They should also help you assess your client’s likes and dislikes.

Why?

Take the time to customize your questionnaire with the information that you most often need from clients. The types of websites you usually design, the industries you work with most and the level of technical knowledge your clients tend to have can all determine the kinds of questions you will include and how they are phrased.

See the “Further Resources” at the end of this post for lists of sample questions that you could use to create your own questionnaire.

Background and General Questions

Before you dive into the questions that will suss out how your client wants their website to look and what they want it to do, you need to get an idea of what the client is all about and why they’re looking for a new website. This section of your questionnaire can be very revealing, especially if they’re unhappy with their current website.

Stick Figure

You’ll also want to get some general information in this section. Ask about the budget for the project, who you’ll be working with directly, who the decision-makers are and what staff are going to be involved in the design process and what their roles will be. Find out who their target visitor is, who their customers are, how they’re currently interacting with those customers online and how they’d like to improve that interaction. And make sure to find out whether they already have a domain name and hosting package that they’re happy with.

Here are some sample questions to gather background and general information:

Why are you looking for a new website design or redesign?
What do you like most about your current website?
What do you dislike most about your current website?
Do you already have a domain name and hosting plan?

Function-Focused Questions

Figuring out what exactly your client wants their website to do is key to making sure you give them what they want. You need to ask them questions that strike to the heart of exactly what they want from their website. Sounds easy enough, right? Except in many cases, clients don’t really know what they want their website to do. Your questionnaire can actually help them clarify their needs and wants.

Post-it Question Mark

Some example questions for figuring out how the website should function:

Do you want to sell products on your website?
Do you want a contact form or any other forms on your website?
Do you need an image gallery, video or other multimedia content?
Do you want a blog or other regularly updated content?

Design-Focused Questions

Finally, you’ll want some information about the aesthetics of your client. Now, in an ideal world, your client will have perused your portfolio and seen the kinds of websites you design and will have decided to work with you because they like your aesthetic. But that’s not always the case. Figuring out their design preferences up front helps you avoid designing something they will hate later on.

Statue

You have a few different ways to learn their tastes. Ask your client what colors they’d like to use. They may have a set color scheme or have colors associated with their brand. Or they may be open to your input. The same could be done for qualities that they want their website to be associated with (e.g. “bold,” “soft,” “professional,” “informal,” etc.).

One of the best ways to get a sense of your client’s design preferences is to ask them to provide you with examples of a few websites that have designs they like and a few websites whose designs they don’t like. Also ask them what they like or dislike about each of these designs, because this sheds light on their overall tastes.

Another, sometimes more telling, method of doing this is to show them five to ten websites and ask them what they like and dislike about each. This is often more effective, because you can choose websites that have a wide range of styles and get a fuller picture of what they like and don’t like.

Here are some sample questions to figure out the client’s design tastes:

Do you have a color scheme you’d like to use?
What words would you like people to associate with your website?
Do you have a specific style of design in mind?

What Not to Ask

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen questionnaires ask things that are either completely irrelevant or too technical for the average client to understand. Remember that your clients likely don’t know much about the technical aspects of design. They probably know they want something like an image gallery or a map, but they won’t know whether the things they want will require a custom database or JavaScript. In many cases, they might not even know basics, like whether their website should have an RSS feed or Flash.

Here are some examples of unhelpful questions to ask:

Will you need a custom database?
Will you need JavaScript (jQuery, MooTools, etc.)?
Will you need an e-commerce solution?
Will you need to handle uploading and downloading?
Will you need a searchable database?

While getting an idea of what the technical specifications of the website might be is important, structure your questions around the features and benefits of the website, not the specifications. So instead of the questions above, ask things like:

Would you like a search engine on your website?
Should visitors be able to download files from your website or post their own files?
Would you like visitors to be able to sign up for accounts, or would you like a secure area just for visitors who have signed up for accounts?
Would you like to sell products on your website?

Planning for the Future

Make sure to ask clients about their future needs, too. If you know they might want an e-commerce solution six months down the road, make provisions for that in the initial website design. The goal is to build a long-term relationship with the client, so the more involved you are in their goals and plans, the easier your job will be now and in the future.

What's That?

You’ll also want to ask clients about regular updates and maintenance for the website. And you’ll want an idea of how much updating and maintaining they will want to handle in-house and how much they might want you to do. Some sample questions:

How often do you want or will you need to make updates to your website?
Do you have someone in your company who will be responsible for ongoing website updates? Does that person have any experience with website maintenance?
What features do you anticipate adding to your website in the future?

Tips To Refine Your Questionnaire

Once you have a basic questionnaire mapped out, it’s time to make some refinements so that you get the best results from it. The goal of the questionnaire is to improve your workflow and communication, so you want the process to be as efficient and effective as possible.

First of all, keep the questionnaire short. You want as much information from your clients as possible, but if your questionnaire is too long, your clients will get bored and may not give it the attention it deserves.

There are two ways to keep the questionnaire short: limit the number of questions and/or limit the length of questions. Refine your questions until they are as short as possible (five to ten words is plenty).

Don’t be afraid to be creative with some questions to get your clients thinking outside the box. Ask a few unorthodox questions. Ask them to compare their website to something unrelated (such as a building or a food). You could provide sample answers to guide your clients to giving you the information you’re looking for.

Continue to refine your questionnaire over time and as you get client feedback. Consider adapting the questionnaire to individual clients to get information that is more relevant to particular projects. It’s your questionnaire: use it the way that works best for you and your clients.

Further Resources

How to Extract the Facts with a Web Design Client Questionnaire
An excellent annotated client questionnaire from Freelance Switch.

How to Create an Effective Web Design Questionnaire
A fantastic post from Six Revisions to help you design your own questionnaire.

Increase Productivity: Create a Client Questionnaire
A very basic questionnaire guide.

101 Invaluable Questions to Build Your Web Design Questionnaire
A great resource for finding questions to include in your own questionnaire.

46 Questions for a Web Design Project
An excellent list of potential questions to ask your clients.

Simple & Effective Web Design Client Questionnaire
A sample questionnaire, with resources for creating your own.

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About the Author

Cameron Chapman is a professional Web and graphic designer with many years of experience. She writes for a number of blogs, including her own, Cameron Chapman On Writing. She’s also the author of Internet Famous: A Practical Guide to Becoming an Online Celebrity.

Comments and Discussions
  • Edwin, 27 November 2009

    Excellent post. It is critical not to let the client dictate the conversation. They often seem to want more than they really need. SEO is arguably the most important question – after all what is the use of designing a website, if google cannot index it.

    • Oliver Nassar, 30 November 2009

      “after all what is the use of designing a website, if google cannot index it.”
      most of the work I come across places little importance on SEO and SERP exposure. IME, create a usable interface that serves their business goals. if you’re designing something specifically for google and the other spiders thats one thing, but this is rarely the case unless it’s a blog or content network.

  • Matt M., 27 November 2009

    I think the key part to this article is the explanation of, “What Not to Ask”. As a professional, you should be able to ask the correct questions to obtain the information you need to know to do an effective job and quote based on the work you need to do to complete the goals/objectives of the client – that is why they are employing a professional in the first place.

    Regarding Edwin’s post, any experienced web designer can complete rudimentary SEO and fundamental architecture to allow for indexing, but it is the advice, research and implementation of an SEO professional/agency to really provide excellent strategy and rankings.

  • Abhilash Mukundan, 27 November 2009

    Thanks a lot for this article.
    These are very useful managing clients as there a are sometimes when the client says something and what we understand is entirely a different version.

  • Abhilash Mukundan, 27 November 2009

    Thanks for the post. A very useful post indeed.
    There are times when similar questionnaire can reduce a lot of time and confusion.

  • Samir, 28 November 2009

    A good overview of an important subject, that holds sway for all sorts of service industries. I especially like that you’ve tackled what not to ask clients.

    As with all forms, questionnaires and surveys, the danger is in making the process enough of a chore that the person answering begins to complete the answers for completeness sake rather than for sharing information. Questionnaires are always a balancing act between asking too little and asking too much, but an essential balancing act regardless.

    Thanks for the insights,
    Samir

  • Jordan Koschei, 28 November 2009

    I definitely appreciated this — I’m developing my own client questionnaire right now, and any lack of direction I had has been cleared up. Thanks!

  • Ghazal, 28 November 2009

    I feel that we need to ask to the client if they need an e commerce solution in the questionnaire.

  • 5t3ph, 28 November 2009

    Thanks for including my Simple & Effective Web Design Client Questionnaire in your resources! I hope others find it helpful. I’d appreciate knowing if you use it!

    In looking at your guide, I think I will modify a few of my questions. Thanks again!

  • BooshMedia, 29 November 2009

    Great post, I will definitely be using this to help in creating our questionnaire. Keep up the good work

  • Bruce Bybee, 30 November 2009

    Some useful stuff.

    Now I know what they’re going to ask me.

  • Pieter, 05 December 2009

    Nice tips, but I mostly don’t send clients a questionnaire.
    I just call them, IM them or have an email conversation about the project and note what they mention.
    Thereafter I ask how they see the website, what they want it to do and if they have similar examples.
    That gets me started most of the time.

    1 thing is for sure: communication is important!

  • Dhane Diesil, 08 December 2009

    When do you usually send your clients the questionnaire? Right after the initial consultation or once you get an idea of their budget?

  • Ankit, 18 March 2010

    All these things we use to have in Industrial Engineering….

  • Alissa, 26 July 2010

    @Dhane – I generally send my client the questionnaire before I speak with them. I do this so that in my first initial meeting a can elaborate or clarify their answers.

    I think that questions relating to the integration of Social Media should be incorporated in the questionnaire as well. More and more my clients are asking for direct connections to their Facebook pages and twitter widgets to display either there own tweets or aggregated tweets relating to their industry or web content.

    Additionally, most of my project are RE designs of existing sites however, the majority of the questions remain the same as if it were a completely new site.

    I generally like to alert the client that some of these questions may seem obvious but politely ask them to answer them anyway. I had one client decline my services because they assumed I didn’t “get” their business because I asked seemingly obvious questions. While they may SEEM obvious, the clients response can give a great deal of insight into their mindset.

  • Wendell Tesch, 06 November 2010

    Great post, well written I must say.

  • Jeraldine Spigner, 17 January 2011
  • dsa, 28 January 2011

    ho

  • ???, 16 May 2011

    Excellent info on how to design a questionnaire for mpf.hk

  • Ray Creations, 04 November 2011

    A very nice article. Presenting your clients with a set of questionnaire to know them is of out-most importance. It tells in the first place what kind of relationship you are going to share with the client. But tweaking around questions for every client is not practical in my opinion, especially when you get a lot of inquires. Having a fixed set of questions save time.

  • Paul S, 01 June 2012

    Good article.

    I would add, that to anyone who is either new to surveys or can’t decide upon the questions, online survey software helps.

    Most of them have pre built templates, which include the questions. I use Smart Survey myself and they have some really useful templates. It’s helped me more than once!

    reference: http://www.smart-survey.co.uk

  • ashish, 18 October 2012

    i have to make a panel, for third party.
    how to arrange the data from panel for the survey of client?

  • Graham, 11 April 2013

    I think the easiest tool I have ever used is http://www.surveymoz.com

    They provide a lot of survey templates, including customer related templates, to help you design the prefect client questionnaire.

  • Emily Woods, 06 September 2013

    Thanks for sharing this valuable information, Cameron! This should definitely help me when I create my next survey on SoGoSurvey.

  • Petr Kosta, 13 November 2013

    What application for creating web forms do you recommend? I need some surveys but most of my forms are forms with many data and many conditions. I tested some popular apps but they seemed too simple and insufficient for me. Do you know any tool for professionalists?

  • Lee Shields, 28 November 2009

    My client recently came back after completion with 50 A3 pages of scrawled “amends”

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