A successful design project starts by understanding your clients’ needs. By asking the right client questions, you can provide better designs, avoid unnecessary revisions and get returning clients who are satisfied with your work. Building rapport and respect are vital to a great creative collaboration, and it starts before you even pick up your pencil.

Here are the 20 essential client questions you should ask clients before working on any design project. These questions will help clients feel involved with the design process, and they’ll also help you brainstorm ideas and fine-tune your creative output.

Establish common ground

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Start by letting clients know that you care. Walk in their shoes and understand why they’re looking for a design solution in the first place. These questions will help you learn the challenges that they’re facing at the moment, so you can think about how you can best provide a design solution.

1. “What’s the inspiration behind this project?”

Discovering your client’s motivation helps you get a solid idea of why your client wants to work with you and how you should start the project. Their response can reveal what they’re trying to replicate or do differently.

2. “What are you trying to achieve?”

Setting goals makes it possible for you to track progress and see how effective your design is. When you know what your design should be accomplishing, you’ll be able to see what gaps you can fill.

3. “What are your expectations?”

By asking this question, you give the client the impression that you are a professional designer whose time, resources, and talents must be valued and appreciated. If you’ve heard of “scope creep,” you know how important it is to pay attention to this part of your practice.

Learn the brand

Getting to know your clients’ business and brand will help you reflect on what’s in their hearts and minds. These ideas and feelings are exactly what you want to tap into when you start designing.

4. “What is your mission?”

Learn the core values that drive your client’s business. Knowing what your client stands for helps you pay respect to what they believe in. Some design projects also may have a cultural or political angle, and these values may need to be an explicit part of the design.

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5. “What are the strengths of your company?”

Highlight your client’s unique selling points. You can also use this information to inspire the general idea of your design.

6. “Who are your top competitors?”

Get a grasp on your client’s industry. You might find recurring elements and strategies that may work for your client’s project or that could make them stand out.

7. “What do you like or dislike about your previous branding?”

Ask for links to previous marketing materials and make sure that your design is harmonious with your client’s existing marketing materials. If your client has past design samples, it pays to know what’s worked and what hasn’t, especially if they’re rebranding.

Define the audience

Design with a well-defined audience in mind. Learn about your client’s customers in terms of both demographics (age, gender, ethnicity, etc.) and psychographics (personality).

8. “Who is your target customer?”

Start with psychographics and have your client describe exactly who their ideal customers are, including what they do, how they act, what they like and more. When you start your design, you can use elements that appeal to this target audience’s way of thinking.

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9. “Is this for a feminine, masculine or gender-neutral audience?”

Certain brands may use traditional gender expectations to appeal to a specific audience. Likewise, if a client tells you that they have a broad, mixed audience when it comes to gender, you bring more gender-neutral elements into your design.

10. “What age group are you targeting?”

Different age groups expect and respond to different things when it comes to design. Consider how appropriate and effective your choices of color, shapes, typography and style will be to the target audience. Will these elements resonate or fall flat?

11. “Are there any cultural concerns with your audience?”

Certain design elements may be inappropriate or perceived differently in other cultures. Avoid pitfalls by asking this question, so you can do research and make sure your design is acceptable to your client’s community.

Set expectations

Some clients tend to focus on their needs and forget about the specifics of the project. If you’ve heard of something along the lines of, “I want a unique and awesome design that’s going to show just how cool my product is so that I can increase sales,” you know exactly what I mean.

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Ask these questions to set their expectations. You can praise or “approve” their design ideas, or break it to them (gently) that they’re the plan is not going to work. (“Sorry, I don’t think we can fit the names of all 200 guests on your invitation design.”)

12. “What style are you looking for?”

Determine your client’s taste in design aesthetic by assuming they might be design experts themselves. Instead of, “Would you like to include isometric illustrations or maybe some asymmetric layouts?” you can ask, “Do you want a balanced, clean look, or something more experimental and dynamic?” Your questions will help you narrow down your choice of creative trends.

13. “What must-have elements does your design need?”

Check if your client has quirks or requirements. This question will make sure you don’t neglect any copy, images or themes that are essential to the design. (I don’t know about you, but I have a client in the fashion industry who always needs to see something sparkly.)

Get practical details

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More often than not, your clients will use your design in print or digital—for marketing campaigns, online ads, blogs, publishing, and more. Learn more about the final product to inform your design.

14. “Where will you use the design?”

Have your client tell you about the medium, location and size of the finished product. You’ll have different design considerations for print vs. digital and handheld vs. large-scale designs.

15. “How will you distribute or use the product?”

For printed designs, follow up by asking about printing specifications. Depending on the production technique, you may need to limit your colors or you may have the opportunity to add even more layers to your design.

Set professional boundaries

For a smoother collaboration, ask your client how they would like to work together. You’ll also get a chance to express what you can and cannot do for the client.

16. “How do you prefer to communicate?”

Some clients prefer receiving constant updates, while some will give you time alone to “do your own thing.” Understanding how you’re going to work together for the rest of the project will help you focus more on your work or anticipate interruptions. This way, you can schedule tasks and prepare updates to give to your client.

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17. “How much are you willing to spend on this project?”

Make it clear to the client what your base rates are. If you will charge for each revision, set expectations whether this will be calculated per hour or revision round.

18. “How do you want to give feedback?”

Determine how often you’ll update the client with new versions of the design. Some clients love to have a back and forth with the designer. Others can take a hands-off approach. Consider your options so you don’t waste time and effort.

19. “What files and formats do you need?”

Make it clear to the customer what they can receive and do with their files. This will also help you anticipate what type of licensing will be required for certain design assets that you will need to use, such as fonts and images.

20. “How soon do you need this?”

Make sure you give yourself ample time to finish a project along with your other commitments. Allow time for revisions and even a bit of possible procrastination or designer’s block.

Great design starts with a little Q&A

Keep in mind that clients aren’t just looking for an attractive design. They also need professional advice, patience, and understanding, plus a little care and acknowledgment. By asking the right client questions, establishing a common ground, and understanding their desires, you can better satisfy your client’s needs and provide an enjoyable experience that’s worth acquiring again in the future.

And hey, who doesn’t want returning clients?

Next time that you’re working on a project keep these client questions in mind and try to start a conversation. Don’t be afraid to ask. Show that you care and avoid making dangerous assumptions. It all starts with the first question that opens doors to many possibilities: “What can I design for you today?”

Mia Dagsaan
About the author

Mia Angela Dagsaan is a certified freelance writer and inbound marketer. She writes about content, design, branding, and digital marketing. When not writing, she paddles out with an 8-foot surfboard and travels to a hidden paradise. Read more of her writing on her website.