The more I work one-on-one with design clients, the more I understand the importance of communication, especially within a creative business. In order to clearly visually communicate the mission and purpose of a brand, I must first clearly understand the business behind it. And that happens through thorough communication on both ends of the client experience.
So I implement what I call “client homework” - a series of questionnaires and assignments that help me cover my bases and gain as much feedback from my clients as possible before the design process begins.
I highlighted the benefits of client homework and how I use it in this Elle & Company article a few months ago, and I’ve since had several requests for a look inside my questionnaires.
And while I’m usually very open about sharing the details of my 2-week design process and my custom project pages, I think this subject can be bridged in a way that’s more beneficial than giving you all my “answers,” so to speak.
Instead of sharing my own questionnaires, I want to guide you through creating your own client homework. And that’s where today’s post comes in.
1. Take time to write out your process from start to finish
It’s hard to figure out exactly what you need from clients if you haven’t spent time thoughtfully considering each step of your creative process.
Although you think you may already have your process nailed down, writing it out in detail forces you to slow down and thoughtfully consider each step. Take some time to list all the steps from start to finish. Get specific and include details.
Extra credit: You can also use this time to go through and simplify steps, add in thoughtful ways to improve your client experience (like client gifts), or brainstorm new ideas for current steps that aren’t working well.
2. Under each step of your process, list the items you’ll need FROM YOUR CLIENT in order to complete it
This is where client homework begins to take shape. Now that you have every step of your process laid out in detail, go back through and list everything you’ll need from your client to complete that step.
For example, my design process and client needs look something like this:
1 | Inspiration Board
The inspiration board is a starting point and makes sure my client and I are on the same page visually. I use the images they've collected, usually in a secret Pinterest board, to pull in colors, patterns, textures, and photos that visually represent the tone and theme of their new brand. 1 revision
Items I need from my client:
- Access to client’s secret Pinterest board
- Descriptions for each pin, explaining why the photo was included in the board
2 | Logo Concepts
Once the inspiration board is finalized, I spend time sketching logo ideas. After I’ve come up with some solid options, I digitize the sketches to create 3 distinct design concepts for the logo. After discussing the 3 options, my client and I narrow it down to one logo and make any tweaks and changes necessary. 2 revisions
Items I need from my client:
- Idea of what my client is looking for (mission statement, ideal customer, adjectives that describe the direction of the new brand, etc.)
3 | Brand Style Guide
From there I add in alternate logos, signature patterns, type combinations, and illustrations to complete the new brand. I then compile all of those elements into a brand style guide for my client to reference in the future. 1 revision
4 | Collateral Designs
This is where the items of the brand board begin to come together. I design 4 collateral items of my client’s choice and provide them with the necessary files for printing/finishing. 1 revision
Items I need from my client:
- Idea of client's workflow to help nail down which 4 items would be most beneficial
- Confirmation of the 4 collateral items my client chooses
- Text and photos for each collateral item
5 | Website Design
Once the brand style board is complete and the collateral designs are finalized, I get to work on the design of my client’s Squarespace website. I start by mapping out the site to ensure that the layout is simple and intuitive, and then I add in all of the elements of the new brand. Blog and e-commerce design are also included. 2 revisions
Items I need from my client:
- Idea of what my client is looking for (website purpose, successful site outcomes, etc.)
- Pages my client wants to include
- Text and photos for each page
- Admin access to Squarespace site
6 | Launch Day
I believe something as significant as a new brand and website deserves to be celebrated! I showcase my client’s new brand and website on my blog and social media and partner with my client to generate excitement over their new launch.
Some of the steps might not require anything from your client (like steps 3 and 6 in my process), but it’s beneficial to spend the time thoughtfully considering what your needs are within each individual step.
Extra credit: Include the items that are required on your end for each step of the process.
3. Consider how you’ll obtain those items from the client
What is the best, most convenient way to obtain the information you outlined in step 2? This step will probably look a little different for everyone depending on your process and how you primarily communicate with your client (in-person meetings, email, Skype), but here are a few ideas to help get your creative gears turning:
- Printed workbook. If you’re going for a high-end approach, you might consider designing and printing a workbook and sending it to your client in a welcome package with a gift and other information about your client process. The client can fill it out and either mail it back to you or hand it off at your next in-person meeting.
- Google Doc. This is the method I use. I set up a new document for each new client and share it with them so that we both have access. I can ask questions for clarification and they can continue to make edits right up until the client process begins. It's very convenient for both of us.
- Automated emails. If you want to get really creative and streamline your client process even further, you can set up automated emails requesting information for a certain step of the process. For example, I might set up an email campaign that sends my client an email with their branding homework right after they book, an email 3 weeks later that has their workflow questionnaire to help nail down which 4 collateral items might be the most beneficial, another email 3 weeks later for their website, and a final email 1 week before their project begins to check in and go over any final questions or last-minute details. This might be beneficial to use in conjunction with other methods in this list and may also cut back on overwhelm on your client’s end if you have a lot of questionnaires and homework material. Related post: How to Create an Autoresponder for Your Mailing List
- 17Hats questionnaire. The questionnaire feature on 17Hats is extremely useful. For rounds 1 and 2 of my Adobe Illustrator e-course, I set up a questionnaire within 17Hats to ask attendees some simple questions that helped me understand their needs and better prepare for the lessons. It kept the questionnaire under each attendee’s profile as well, which is a huge plus; it’s always nice to have client information, invoices, workflow, and questionnaires all in one place.
- Dropbox. Do you need to obtain images or files from your client? Set up a folder for them in Dropbox. You can also set up folders within folders for certain steps of the creative process. For example, many of my clients have Dropbox folders for each page of their website (home, about, portfolio, process, contact) and subfolders for text and images.
Extra credit: Take it one step further by providing detailed instructions within your client homework. Use the information to educate your clients on each step and why the information is beneficial.
Time ranks right below communication in order of importance within any client process. After I shared by 2-week design process on the blog a couple months ago, I had several creatives ask me about staying on task. What if the client doesn’t get everything to you in time? What if they’re slow to get back with you?
Client homework helps troubleshoot these issues ahead of time. By giving my client their questionnaires and to-do’s immediately after they book, it provides them with plenty of time to complete the homework before the project begins and makes the design process run smoothly on both ends. It also saves time in the long run and allows me to continue on without having to ask for more photos, body copy, etc.
Are you interested in seeing the questionnaires I include in my client homework? In the upcoming Design Your Brand e-course, I’m giving participants access to the branding, workflow, and website questionnaires I implement with Elle & Company design clients. Don’t forget to sign up for the e-course waiting lists if you haven’t already (an exciting special offer might be coming your way at the beginning of next week) and mark your calendars for next week’s one-day e-course registration on Wednesday August 12th!
What do you include in your client homework? Which programs/apps do you use to obtain the information from your client?