We've all been there before. You meet a potential client and start the discussion about working together. The wheels start in motion, and the intricate mating dance ensues. Read more...
But we also all know that what goes on between the moment a lead is generated and the day you start banging out your website can be unpredictable (or all too predictable, read on), tense, and sometimes approach adversarial.
So the point of this post is to start a conversation we've been wanting to have for a long time. When we're dealing with a new client (our clients are usually small, full-service website design/redesign projects), what is the best strategy for discovery?
Yes, yes, my friends. I really do want to get into this conversation. Client surveys, communication briefs, estimates, the whole shbang. Now time for some shocking honesty: neither we, nor our clients, are entirely happy with our current discovery process, which I'll be sharing with you in a little bit. Survey questions are redundant, oh and people don't like surveys to begin with. Communication briefs are usually based on these surveys. So we have to fix this problem at the root. Now my cards on the table; we know something needs to change, because we need to find a better way to execute discovery than what we've done up until now.
I think you know what we need
I recently was on the horn with a potential new client (bringing back the horn!), and he told me that he found our client survey questions redundant. "It's all redundant Max, I think you know what we need. Websites for (insert industry x) follow a pretty solid format, and we don't want to deviate from that. So, I think you know what we want."
Well, not really actually. I think (as Cameron has pointed out to me on numerous occasions), that typical new clients make some (false) assumptions about a web design/redesign project. The core assumption is that websites are a commodity: like buying a new car. You come in, browse around, test drive one or two, let the dealer know what colour you want, and fork over some cash and off you go. But that's not what we're really about. We want to design websites that actually address needs and solve problems. People tend to think that "We need a website." Our first question always is, "Great. Why?" We've seen more mouths drop than a back alley dentist.
The Client Survey
The Client survey seems to be approaching an industry standard. I've seen it on a lot of websites and most of them resemble the survey put forth by Kelly Goto, the big momma of web design.
So here's where I'd like to start off. The client survey, the first description of the project, the most basic tool that we use to create the estimate. Anyone can look at ours, just check the footer of our website and you can download the pdf. Over the next week I'll be spending a bit of time every day looking for other client surveys that deviate from our model. Maybe someone out there made one that clients get excited about, where clients complete all of the pertinent questions, one that clients take seriously!
When I think about client surveys, I can think of a few things about it that I already dislike: Usually they're too long. Maybe this is why clients get tired of them and don't complete all the questions with the attention they deserve. Maybe the questions aren't explained well-enough. Maybe this is why some clients think questions are redundant. Maybe people in other industries just don't get why we're doing this. So it comes down to two options: it's either our fault for not making a good enough survey, or it's their fault: and people outside our industry don't get that this is a necessary exercise.