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11 things you need to know before starting any design project

11 things you need to know before starting any design project

It might go without saying that there are some things you need to know before starting any web design project…but I’ll say it anyway:

There’s some stuff you really need to know before you start any web design project.

Yes, there are things like the company name and how much you’ll get paid – those are the obvious things. It might even seem like a no-brainer to ask about things like color schemes and other websites that the client likes. But there are some less-obvious things that, over time, will become pretty painful if you haven’t figured them out in advance.

Here’s a brief list of things you need to know before starting any design project. Take these topics and expand them however you see fit to come up with your own client questionnaire. Leave no stone unturned!

Administrative details

There’s some “boring stuff” that ideally should be worked into your client contract, but some of these details are easy to overlook:

1. Primary contact person, including a phone number and a mailing address.

It’s way too easy to go silent over email, and when there’s an issue and you really need to speak with someone, you’ll want to have more than one way to communicate.


BONUS: The benefit of defining your ONE point of contact with your ONE back-up means you will have just ONE point of contact, and not a chorus of voices and input telling you want to do, what doesn’t work, etc.

2. Secondary contact person, including a phone number and a mailing address.

If your client is an organization and not just a single person, get a back-up. Make this person an admin, if possible, because you want to go to this person only when your primary contact has gone silent, and an admin might be more likely to tell you if your contact is out of the office, ram your invoice through, or otherwise be helpful.

3. Payment terms.

It’s surprising how easily a client and a service provider can have wildly different expectations about payment terms. Leave nothing to chance! How much will you be paid for the project? What are the payment milestones and when are they due? Will you start work before the initial deposit comes in? Will you turn over the website before or after final payment has been received? What types of payment will you accept? When is your invoice considered overdue? Hammer all of these details out up front to avoid any nasty surprises down the road.

4. Who’s doing the maintenance?

This isn’t necessarily critical to your ability to design a good site, but it might inform some of your design decisions as well as how you price out the project. If you’ll be teaching the client how to maintain the site when your design is finished, you should fold that into the project fee. Same if you’re doing the maintenance yourself – will you have an ongoing maintenance contract?

Website elements

5. Special features.

Are there any features that your client needs or wants in the site design? Figure out these client expectations in advance. What functionality do they envision, and how complex will that make the project?


6. Source of elements like copy and images.

Where will any stock images come from, and who will pay for them? Are you designing logos? Do you need to buy a special font? Who’s in charge of the copy, and when will it be sent to you? These are all important questions to answer before you even price the project out, let alone begin work.

7. How robust is the project?

While you’re talking about the copy, get a sense of how robust the site will be. If you’re assuming it’ll be 8-10 pages and then the client sends you 20,000 words of copy, you’ll probably need to adjust the scope of the site, the copy, or both…and that’s no fun when you’re already knee-deep in it.

Marketing goals and information

8. Who is the company and who are their competitors?

Before you lay pencil to paper, you need to have a good sense of the company, its goals, and its USP. You should also put an eye on their direct competitors so you know what the competition is doing (and how to beat them).

9. Target audience.

What’s the client’s target market? Are they men or women? Parents? Professionals? What age and income bracket is the company’s ideal client? Is your client a B2B business? What special problem do they solve? Understanding the target market will provide you with invaluable context for your web design, so you can’t overlook the importance of this.

10. What does the client want to happen?

Ask your client what their goal is for the site. Is it to make more sales? Generate phone calls? Capture email addresses? Knowing the desired outcome will go a long way in informing the structure, content, and CTA choices you’ll make…and make you that much more likely to succeed.


11. Social media.

What types of social media will you need to integrate, and how will they play into the content you’re putting together? Will there be a blog incorporated on the site? Does the company plan to use Pinterest or Facebook for its marketing? In addition to the integrations you need to set up, optimizing for their social media of choice will be a nice touch you can add to the design.

This isn’t a comprehensive list of everything you need to know before starting a design, but getting the answers to these questions is a critical part of your initial project setup. The more you know up front, the better you’ll be able to quote the project, get the work done, and anticipate any snags in the road. The project experience will be better, for both you and the client.

What would you add to this list?

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