updated: September 23rd, 2009 / Ross Johnson / 11 Comments

Design Discovery Document, What I Use to Learn More About Client Needs…

I recently posted about how to improve your creative process, and one of the core elements of that process is learning everything you can about what the client wants, expects, and needs to gain from the creative deliverables. Really the core of this learning process is asking the right questions and guiding the client in answering them, this way you get a clear idea of what you are to be communicating through your design.

I built my design discovery document through observing and reading about what others had put on their questionnaire, as well as trial and error (finding holes in my creative briefs and then writing questions that would help fill those holes). So to keep giving back to the community I wanted to post a quick rundown of the typical questions I ask during the client kick off meeting.

NOTE: Some of these questions are web design specific, others are more generic, and some I leave out depending on the scope of the project


  1. What are 3 emotions or feelings a user should feel when they visit the site. Rank them 1 – 3 in terms of importance? (example: excited, calm, happy, etc)

  2. What are 3 characteristics you want your site to portray? Rank them 1 – 3 in terms of importance. (example: professional, innovative, reliable, etc)

  3. Do you have any brand colors? If not, what colors could be used to accomplish the feelings and characteristics from questions 1 & 2?

  4. What types of images or illustrations could be used to communicate the feelings and characteristics of questions 1 & 2?


  1. What are the primary tasks that a browser will use the site to complete? (example: register for more information, purchase a product, etc)

  2. What are 2 – 3 goals you would like the site to accomplish? (NOTE: Goals are measurable tasks such as “increase sales”, or “improve brand recognition.” Putting content on a site is NOT a goal, ie: “Have a photo gallery”)

  3. Describe a typical site visitor. How often are they online, and what do they generally use the web for? Give basic demographics: age, occupation, income level, purchasing habits. (Use as much detail as possible in profiling your target user. Profile more than one type if appropriate)

  4. What are the key reasons why the target audience chooses your company’s products and/or service (cost, service, value)?
  5. What will be the primary navigation items on the site? (example: home, about, contact, etc)
  6. Will there be any secondary navigation? If so, on what pages will they be on?
  7. What utilities should the site have? (example: search / sitemap / help / etc)


  1. How do most people find out about your product/service or website? What kind of triggers prompt a contact?
  2. Briefly, what are your short-term marketing plans (specifically, for the site redesign and the 6 to 12 months following launch)?
  3. Do you have an existing or planned marketing strategy in mind to promote this site launch? If so, please describe.
  4. Do you intend to keep the site updated? If so, how often? Who is responsible for updating and providing content?


  1. What content or information should be included on the homepage?

  2. What elements on the home page will need to be updated frequently?

You can also download a sample of our discovery document here.

11 thoughts Design Discovery Document, What I Use to Learn More About Client Needs…

  1. Articles and content in this section of the website are really amazing. From http://www.rosesandgifts.com

  2. Ross’ creative brief concise and I couldn’t find any holes. I have been here and done this for myself. And I will go ahead and say it: Ross’ creative brief and questions kicks mine out of the room! He has done his research and probably some mind control exercises on various clients. He gets you to answer the important questions, not ask more.

    One thing is for sure: Ross is a seasoned designer and a marketing expert that mixes both of these skills to produce something that is delightfully refreshing. It shows his passion and it comes through in the work produced at all levels — even something like a creative brief’s questions. This one is actually alive and breathing and *wants* to get inside your mind and answer the important questions (mind control macro?).

    It doesn’t beg for more questions from clients. That’s what any marketeer, designer or developer should aim for, and Ross hit the target right on.

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  4. useful article, thx very much

  5. Your insights on how to connect with clients is very helpful to me. Especially that I’m planning of having my own web development company.

    My problem though is I’m not a natural artist, rather, a more of a technical guy. And I’m having difficulties on the design aspect of the website that I’m making.

    Any tips?


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  7. @Ray —

    I would actually recommend trying to find some sort of solution to the creative process rather than learning it yourself if you are more technical (and that is the part that you enjoy). Learning design is something that can take years to really master, and if your clients are concerned about the aesthetics you will be better off keeping them very happy and making less money than if they felt the site was simply “OK.”

    A simple solution would be to find someone you could outsource the design to. Once you get to a specific point in your career you will be able to mark up those services and make money off of the design as well.

    Another possibility is have someone create (or purchase) 5 – 10 templates that you can control the basics (colors, photos, logo, etc) that are very solid and you can alter as needed for your clients. This should give you a wide range of possibilities with out having you scrambling to learn color theory, design principals, etc…

    I would still ask the questions in terms of look and feel, tone, emotions, etc… but use that to pick a template rather than creating your own.

  8. wow this is so useful in many ways. thanks a lot for sharing this.

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