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Episode #127: What Questions Should a Graphic Designer Ask a Client?

Graphic designer thinking.By screening prospects and asking strategic questions, designers change the conversation from design to problem solving, get more respect and increase the perceived value of their work. Find out what questions a graphic designer should ask a client.


In this episode of Design Domination, I’m getting into what to ask prospects before you take them on as clients. Some of these are actually good questions for existing clients with new projects too.

Someone was recently asking in the Design Domination Facebook group about what questions should a graphic designer ask a client.

I wanted to share what I ask and why I do so.

Why Graphic Designers Should Screen Clients

First, let me briefly go over why it’s important to screen prospects and ask questions before you take them on as clients.

  1. They may take you more seriously, see you as more professional, as in charge, more of an expert than an order taker. You are leading the process by asking these questions.
  2. You stand out from other graphic designers who aren’t asking these questions.
  3. You are less likely to waste your time on clients who aren’t a good fit.
  4. You find out if they’re serious or just shopping around, because they are less likely to spend time answering questions if that’s the case. If they can’t be bothered to answer these questions, how serious could they be about getting the work done? You should never care more about the project than they do.
  5. You appear to be in demand. By screening, you’re saying, “I don’t work with everyone.”
  6. The process of screening clients tests whether or not they are willing to abide by your processes. This is a huge respect thing. I’ve only had a couple of people refuse to answer my questions via my website or email. It could be a sign of a client who feels the need to be in charge and tell you what to do or someone who needs more hand holding. In that case, it’s up to you to decide if you want them to go directly to jail or pass Go and collect $200.
  7. The information they provide will help you write a creative brief, which means you will have something objective for your design decisions to refer back to.

Now, some prospects will see questions as a barrier to working with you. The more questions you ask, the more likely you are to weed out tire kickers. They won’t want to spend the time.

Others will see your questions as simply information seeking, part of your expert process and helpful to them too, whether or not they work with you. Those are the clients you want.

So how you position these questions is important. I always tell them that this is part of my process and that by answering these questions, they will help me be better prepared for a call. I want the call to be productive, digging deeper into some questions, not just me spending time looking up their website and what they do.

You want to find out beforehand if this would be work you’d even be interested in doing and have the time to do.

On another note, you may not want to ask too many questions, as that could put off some good prospects. But also you make a more personal connection when you actually talk to someone and show a bit of your personality, which can help you get the work. It’s good to get them on the phone to talk about this too.

So if you’re not too busy, you may want to adjust which questions you ask and ask fewer of them via email or a website form and save others for a phone call.

If you get tons of inquiries, you may want to have more questions.

Questions to Ask Graphic Design Clients

Now let’s get into how to screen clients and what questions a graphic designer should ask a client.

I have a form on my website that potential clients can fill out and submit. Sometimes they end up emailing me instead, in which case I will send them those same questions via email.

I want to find out some basic information:

  • How did you find my business?
  • What does your organization do? What is your mission? What do you offer?
  • Who are the main decision maker(s) for this project?
  • What are the main goals for this work?
  • What challenges have you faced in the past?
  • What investment have you set aside for this work?
  • What is the deadline for this work?

Notice that none of these questions is about how many pages a document or website will be.

None of these questions has to do with what colors they like.

None of these questions has to do with branding, publications or websites they like.

At this stage, I want certain information, and I want to change the conversation from deliverables to problem solving.

I have other questions I will ask when talking to them on a call and different ones after I am hired. I don’t want to give away too much or spend too much time on prospects or projects that aren’t a good fit.

Oftentimes, designers will only ask a lot of design-related questions up front, and that can put them in the order taker position, for one. But, two, it reduces the perceived value of the work to the deliverable, as opposed to the solution to a business problem. The solution to a business problem has a higher perceived value than just the execution of the work itself.

OK, so let’s break down each of these questions and why I ask them.

How did you find my business?

I want to know if they were referred by another client or a colleague, did they come via search or do they know me from a talk I’ve done. If they found me in a search, I will ask what they looked up, if they remember, because, darn it, I want to know what keywords are working.

What does your organization do?

This one might seem obvious, but the reason for asking it is twofold:

  1. Are they going to just send me to their website to read what’s there?
  2. Can they explain in plain English what they do?

Most of the time, I will still go visit their website. But I find that what they say they do makes no sense to me.

The ones who do provide an answer here sometimes explain it differently and more coherently than what is on their website.

Who are the main decision maker(s) for this project?

I’ve found that if the person reaching out isn’t a decision maker, then they are usually just shopping around or fact finding. They are not ready to hire. The ones who are the decision makers, on the other hand, are much more likely to work with me—and to do so faster too.

What are the main goals for this work?

I want to know this because this provides an objective basis for the work, and everything in the design stage is going to come back to this.

If they try to impose their personal opinions on the work instead of what would make sense for what they’re trying to accomplish, I can refer back to the creative brief I created from all the information they provided to justify why that may not be a good idea.

What challenges have you faced in the past?

Maybe they’ve had employee cuts or turnover, reduced funding or sales, or something else that would be helpful to find out about. I had a client come to me about a publication redesign. Sales had slowed. I knew from the information they had shared that we needed to make this technical publication more appealing and reader friendly.

Another client came to me with time and budget constraints and disjointed branding. I knew we would need to create not only new branding but Canva templates as well. That way, they could use them themselves and save time by having them ready to go and with a set design.

What investment have you set aside for this work?

I don’t like asking for budget, because that is usually a made-up number. I’m looking at this answer to see what their expectation of cost is—if they actually provide it—and if it’s reasonable, if they’re looking for cheap or if they might just need some education in this area. Oftentimes, I will hear that they don’t know what it should cost.

What is the deadline for this work?

If the work needs to be done very quickly, I may decline it, because it may be a sign this person is unprepared and waits until the last minute, or I would just charge more for it to get it done sooner.

Qualifying Graphic Design Clients

If the prospect has respected my process and I am interested in finding out more about the project, I will send them a link to schedule a call with me.

Now, I’ve said this before… I’ve had a couple of people balk at this, but only a couple. I can’t understand it. The only other option is to go back and forth and spend even more time trying to figure out a date and time, and it takes more time if there are additional people to be on the call.

If you aren’t willing to use my link to set up a call, which I will do by phone or Zoom, then that’s a bit ridiculous. It could be a sign of a difficult client.

Once on a call, a lot of designers will unknowingly just start giving away free brand strategy or discovery sessions at this point in the process to demonstrate what they know, like they need to prove something to the prospect about being good enough to work with.

What happens is that they often give the prospect a lot of clarity—again, for free.

I know this because I used to do this!

Helping them figure things out is doing free work. That’s work you should be paid for—but only after you’ve learned more about what they’re trying to accomplish and helped them determine if what they’ve proposed is the best way to do that.

What ends up happening is that the prospect thinks they don’t need you anymore or they wonder why you’re giving away so much for free. Then they go elsewhere and get it done cheaper.

Once I am on the call with a prospect, I will ask more specific questions about the project, if they haven’t already sent them to me, such as:

  • Can I review the content? I want to know what I will be working with. Laying out hundreds of pages of running text, for example, is much different than designing and laying out a publication with tons of infographics, tables and sidebars.
  • What deliverables do you need?

I also ask for any other information I may need in order to price the project. But if it’s not possible for me to provide an estimate at that time because there is too much up in the air, I will recommend a paid strategy or discovery session to help them figure out those things.

The questions I ask about the specific work also position me as an expert, that I know how to do this work and that I do this type of work all the time.

Oftentimes when asking these questions, I will hear, “Oh, wow. Good question. No one else asked me that” or “We hadn’t thought about that.”

I love to hear that because it’s a sign I’ve just built more trust with a prospect and demonstrated I know my stuff.

It can also be a sign that other designers didn’t know to ask that, and that can put a thought in the prospect’s mind about why didn’t those other designers ask that. Maybe those other designers don’t understand the work as well.

Questionnaire for Graphic Design Clients

If you want to find out specific questions to ask during a design consultation, get my free design questionnaire, 17 Questions to Ask During a Design Consultation.

These questions will help you get more respect, charge more for a higher perceived value of your work and stand out from other designers who aren’t asking these questions.

One designer who uses the questions in the guide said:

“This guide has helped earn the respect of clients. They take me more seriously when I ask these questions. It makes me sound and look more professional as well.

“They seem to be more willing to pay well because they feel comfortable dealing with someone who knows what he’s doing. I can also feel they know that I want the best for their business/brand.”

Just go to creative-boost.com/questions.

Let me know in a comment below what questions you’re asking prospective clients.

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