What to Ask Graphic Design Clients

At the start of a project, it is important to know what to ask graphic design clients to gather as much information as possible. This will often occur before you have landed the job, as it is necessary to have a meeting to help determine the cost and timeframe of the project. Once you have answered some or all of the research questions below, you can provide an accurate estimate in your proposal, as well as have a solid understanding of what the client is looking for.

Who is the target audience?

Find out who you are designing for. This will have a great impact on the style, content and message of the project. For example, a postcard aimed at new customers will be completely different from one aimed at existing customers. Some variables that can impact design include:

  • Internal (i.e. employees of the company) or external customers
  • Age
  • Geographic location
  • Gender
  • Depending on the project, factors like economic status and religion may also come into play.

What is the message?

Find out what message your client is trying to get across to the target audience. The overall message can be something as simple as thanking customers or announcing a new product. Once that is established, go beyond it to find out the “mood” of the piece. Is it excitement? Sadness? Compassion? Gather some keywords that will help with the overall style of your design. If you are in a meeting with a group of people, consider asking each person to come up with a few words that they think describe the mood of the message, and brainstorm from there.

What are the specs of the project?

The client may already have an idea of specifications for a design, which is helpful for determining the time involved in the project, and therefore the cost. For example, a 12-page brochure will take much longer than a 4-page foldout. If the client doesn’t know exactly what they are looking for, now is the time to make some recommendations and to try to finalize these specs.

The amount of content to present, budget, and final use of the design may all affect these decisions. Determine:

  • Dimensions
  • Number of pages
  • Black and white vs. 2-color vs. 4-color printing
  • Paper stock
  • Size of print run (the number of pieces to print)

What is the budget?

In many cases, the client will not know or disclose their budget for a project. They may either have no idea what a design should cost, or they may want you to say a number first. Regardless, it is usually a good idea to ask. If a client has a specific budget in mind and tells you, it can help to determine the scope of the project and your final cost. This is not to say you should do the project for whatever the client says they can pay. Instead, you may alter some parameters (such as timeframe or the amount of design options you provide) to fit within the budget.

Whether they reveal a budget or not, it is ok to say you need to review the project and will get back to them with a quote. You don’t want to throw out a number that will have to change once you’ve had more time to think about it. Sometimes, the client budget will be much lower than you were expecting for a project, and then it is up to you if you want to take the work below your costs for the experience or your portfolio.

In the end, you should be comfortable with what you are making for the amount of work, and it should be fair to the client.

Is there a specific deadline?

Find out if the project needs to be done by a specific date. The job may coincide with a product launch, or another important milestone, for your client. If there is not a deadline, you will want to create a timeframe for completing the project and present it to the client. This, much like your estimate, can be done after the meeting. If there is a deadline and you feel it is not reasonable, it is not uncommon to charge a rush-fee to finish it in time. All of these variables should be discussed prior to the start of the work, so everyone involved is on the same page and there are no surprises.

Can the client provide creative direction?

Whenever possible, it is helpful to get at least a little creative direction from the client.

Of course, you will be creativing something new and unique for them, but some ideas will help you get started. Ask if there are any designs, design elements or other cues they can give you, such as:

  • Colors
  • Fonts
  • Works of art
  • Other designs
  • Websites

It is also important to find out if there is an existing brand that you need to match. The client may have a color scheme, typefaces, logos or other elements that need to be incorporated into your design. Larger clients will often have a style sheet you can follow, while others may just show you some existing designs.

Collecting this information, and any other ideas, from your potential clients will help the working relationship and design process go smoothly. Be sure to take detailed notes when asking these questions, and include as much information as possible in your proposal.