Starting a new project can be both an exciting and daunting time for even the most experienced UX designer. Working with a new client on a new project could prove to be an exhilarating or an exhausting experience, depending on how an organization handles the project. There are a few things a designer can do to ensure that designing an experience becomes a memorable and enjoyable journey. The conversations a UX designer has with a client and stakeholders before a project begins lay a foundation and set everyone’s expectations for the process the project should follow. At the initial stage of a project, soak up as much knowledge as possible and prepare to make the most of this new opportunity.
It’s no secret that communication is the key to every successful project. However, at the very beginning, it can be hard to know what questions you should ask your client and which you can set aside. In this column, I’ll consider nine crucial questions you should invariably ask every client before embarking on a new project with them.
1. What is the problem the project is solving?
All design falls under the umbrella of problem solving. This is doubly true for UX design, for which the user is at the core of all decisions you make in solving a problem. Therefore, asking your client about what problem they intend a project to solve is a good starting point for a conversation with your client. Asking this question helps everyone to take a step back and analyze the bigger picture, as well as to define your expected contribution to the process. Furthermore, aligning your work context with that of your client lets you get a glimpse into their perception of the project. Understanding your client’s expectations gives you the benefit of having a broader perspective when making decisions during the design process.
2. What deliverables do they expect you to create?
Knowing exactly what your client expects from you, as a UX designer, can prevent any misunderstandings and disappointments regarding deliverables from arising, later in a project. Experienced designers who have successfully completed many projects in the past may hesitate to ask this question, but it’s better to clarify your client’s expectations at the initial stage of a project than to face confusion later on. Countless unfavorable scenarios can result from your not asking this question—such as allocating less time and resources only to discover that you’ve underdelivered and not met your client’s expectations or overdelivering on their expectations, having dedicated far more time and resources than were necessary. So it’s best to clear things up at the beginning and ensure that you understand exactly what your client requires from you, as Figure 1 depicts.
3. What are the timeline and the milestones?
Understanding your timeline and milestones is essential, as Figure 2 illustrates, so this is a key question to ask when working with a client, irrespective of the deliverables or the industry. By setting realistic expectations—especially in regard to time—you can eliminate many potentially difficult conversations with your client in the future. Talking over the project plan and establishing what the significant milestones should be for the project is helpful and enables you to structure your design process more effectively. This is especially important if you’re working on other projects in parallel. Client work always involves give and take, and this never rings truer than when it comes to timelines. Find reasonable compromises that allow you to deliver something you’re proud of.
4. What is the client’s experience with UX design?
Understanding how familiar or unfamiliar your client is with the field of UX design can give you insights into how best to communicate with them. For example, design-savvy clients can contribute their insights, and you won’t have to explain the explicit details of your process. Conversely, if your client is not very well versed in the world of UX design, walk them through your process, and explain in depth where you’re coming from when making design decisions.
5. Who is your point of contact in the client’s organization?
Asking about your primary point of contact is an important question that many designers have, no doubt, neglected to ask and faced hard consequences as a result. Having a single primary point of contact on the client side is a blessing, as Figure 3 shows. The degree to which this streamlines your communications is almost indescribable. Whether you need to request design assets or other resources, clear away your doubts, or clarify the project’s timeline, going through just one person on the client side can save you not only the time but also the effort of being directed from one corner of the organization to another. Conversely, if you’re working as part of a team, it’s best for your client to communicate with just one person on your team, so they feel equally comfortable in reaching out to you whenever they have any concerns.
6. What channels of communication do they expect you to use?
A crucial, yet often overlooked question to ask when you’re starting a new project is your client’s preferred modes of communication. The benefits of establishing what channels you and your client should use when communicating are twofold:
If you’ve discussed what channels of communication to use in advance, both you and your client can feel more comfortable reaching out to one another. You’ve already established your expectations for communicating with each other.
Using a particular mode of communication establishes a consistent trail that everyone can follow throughout the project. You can easily refer to earlier requests and shared resources instead of having to scavenge hunt through multiple applications.
You should also take the time to set up recurring meetings with your client—be they daily, weekly, or monthly, depending on the scope and scale of the project. Setting these up in advance ensures that you and your client are always on the same page and can greatly reduce the possibilities for miscommunications.
7. Does your client foresee any risks or painpoints you might encounter during the project?
Because your client is typically more familiar with the industry and their audience than you are, they might foresee potential pitfalls in your design process—even if they don’t have a design background. Getting such insights early in a project can give you precious time to think about how to get over these hurdles or avoid them entirely, as Figure 4 depicts.
8. Does your client have any resources that could assist you in your design process?
While asking your client what problem a project should solve might not seem to apply in some cases, you should always ask it nonetheless because it can produce materials you’d otherwise never see that can assist with your design effort. These resources could include the names of competitors’ applications, deliverables from earlier attempts to solve the problem or previous design iterations, or branding guidelines that you must follow. Each of these resources is valuable in its own right. Getting such materials from your client can ease your job as a UX designer or even spark inspiration.
9. How would your client define success for the project?
Perhaps the most important question to ask when you’re discussing a new undertaking with a client is: what would a successful result entail from your perspective? You might say that this is similar to asking what your client expects from you. However, that establishes just their minimal expectations for a project. You should aim to go above and beyond the expectations they set, as Figure 5 illustrates. Make sure that the design solution you create is successful not just by your standards but also by the client’s.
As I mentioned earlier, clarity and communication are two contributing factors that differentiate successful projects from terrible ones. Asking the questions I’ve outlined in this column can ensure you receive plenty of both as you venture onto a new project. Plus, they’ll help you establish a rapport with your client and open communication channels, ensuring that the project functions smoothly from the beginning right to the very end.
Asking the appropriate questions at the very beginning of a project—well before you’ve kicked off your design process—establishes some semblance of a clear starting point, sets the direction toward which to steer the project, and gives you clear expectations for what you need to achieve for your client to consider your effort a success.
Manik was introduced to design when he was building Placesso, a ride-sharing platform based on Facebook’s social graph. While they never launched the platform, the experience taught Manik a lot about design and development. Since then, he has stayed with design. He and his friends began spending a lot of time discussing the designs of newly launched apps, exploring ways to improve their user experience. They felt really badly about people using poor designs so, in 2014, launched Ketchup Designs Studio. In 2015, they changed the name to Onething Design. Since then, they’ve helped a lot of businesses design products people love to use. Read More