Signing on a new client can always give a designer anxiety. It can sometimes be like going on a first date. No matter how many scenarios you make in your head, the worst can still happen. You always want to step in with an open mind. Many times, clients will actually have a good concept of what they are idealizing. It’s up to you the designer to absorb that information by asking appropriate questions.

When you begin any project, you always want to do your own research. Nothing is more embarrassing than going to a kick-off meeting ignorant of what the client is all about. Do you have the correct spelling of the company name (a lot tend to capitalize a letter in the middle of the word now, don’t forget)? How long have they been in business? Is the client a startup getting their brand off the ground?

Get beyond the basics. If this client has been around for decades, what logo revisions have they gone through? What styles have they already used and dismissed? What styles have they liked and clung to, maybe for far too long?

Gathering as much information as you can doesn’t just make you look better but it will give your project a better end result. When you meet with your client at the launch of a new project, come prepared with the following simple questions. Asking these will save you from being told by the client that the design you present is “Not what they had in mind.”

What are you looking for from this project?

This question may seem like an obvious one but it will save you from a ton of headaches. Clients might have a set amount of hours in their head or set deadline expectations, and they might be different than what your first thoughts as the designer were. Getting everything out on the table will not only help you request and allocate the right amount of billable time, but it will get everyone in a mutual understanding of what should be covered with this specific scope of work.

What age demographic are you trying to reach?

We’ve talked about understanding your audience before. What do they like? What do they want? What do they react to?

For design, the age of the audience you’re trying to reach is vital to know. Understanding the target age group will always help you decide how you will design the piece. Age can be a deciding factor for what colors and what font choices you use. Asking will also give you a great lead into having a conversation about whether the client is looking for a more sophisticated piece or a modern outside the box solution. Age and other demographical details can greatly influence the mood of the final product (remember when Lawrence used quick tricks to change the mood of his video to fit different audiences?).

What other designs have you seen that caught your eye?

This may seem like a loaded question. But really, you are initiating a discussion that makes the client feel more involved in the project. Even if the design they suggest might be terrible, in your mind you are looking for a color scheme or a direction that could possibly be pulled from their suggestion and used to your advantage. You’re not looking for what caught their eye, but why it did.

Who is your competition?

As the saying goes keep your friends close but your enemies closer. Well… what I mean is, look at what the client’s competition is doing. Look to see if it can be done better. Don’t copy what they have (and we would never let you) but help your client find a presence that makes them stand out from the rest of the pack.

How do you want to be perceived by customers?

This question plays off of demographic as well, as this will also give you a great lead into what kind of company they want to be. Do they want to be organic or clean and precise? Serious, casual or edgy? This will let you know how they perceive themselves and how they want to be perceived. You’ll be able to recognize what is realistic – and point out where you’d make adjustments.

Plus, this lets you know if this is a client with whom you want to be associated. Is what they want going to result in a high-quality, respectable piece? Is their messaging something you want to tie your name to? Getting all the work you can is great, but you shouldn’t also sell out on your beliefs.

Is there anything design-wise we should be aware of?

This question confuses some clients but it is a good one. What colors do they dislike? What fonts already make their stomachs hurt? Will elements of the design from this product be re-used in other formats (such as taken from web to print or print to web)? You’ll also be able to find out if a style guide has ever been set up for the company. In that case, they will ask you to use the fonts and colors that have been already chosen by the executive team and CEOs.

Can you please send me all marketing materials (if any)?

I cannot stress this question enough. You can never start a project without the native files from a client. This is not something you can get off of Google. In order for you to have the best design and cleanest files possible, always get the materials the company already has. Every version of the logo, with tagline and without, on a white background, on a black background… everything they have that will make your design process go smoother. The sooner you get the materials the quicker you can start your project and the more seamlessly the process will go. What client doesn’t love a project with a pushed-up delivery date?

Any other advice for how to approach a project with a new design client?