Discovery in Web Design Part 1

Posted by Donna Rouviere Anderson February 24, 2015

If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient attention, than to any other talent.

— Isaac Newton

Any creative process begins with discovery, and web design is no exception. Long before a web designer starts pushing pixels and sizing typography, she goes through a rigorous discovery process aimed at bringing out the best of her client's vision and ideas about their web project and matching it with the best of her and the web developer's talents. The discovery stage of web design is when the web designer and developer find out what the client wants and whether the designer and developer are a good fit to create it. 

We have found that it saves an enormous amount of time and money for a client as well as producing a better product if we start this stage by sending them a questionnaire that helps them to think through their project before meeting with us. Since most of our clients are startups and medium-sized businesses, they are budget-conscious and appreciate the opportunity to think through the project in its initial stages without the clock ticking away billable hours. The questionnaire also helps them to clarify and articulate their thinking about what they are trying to achieve with the project.

Depending on the project, we look over our questionnaire before we send it and sometimes adapt it to the client to avoid wasting their time answering questions that are not relevant to their project or that they have already answered in a phone conversation or email. Here is our basic questionnaire, which we have developed as a result of our own experiences with clients, their feedback and ideas that from web design and development training courses that we have taken over the years.

After the client returns the filled out questionnaire, we schedule a meeting with them. Before the meeting, we carefully review the questionnaire, and look at their current website, those of others in the same industry and those that they mentioned on their website they like or dislike.


In order to design a website that meets your needs and the needs of your site’s users, we need to know more about you and your business. This questionnaire is designed to help you give us that information. Please feel free to add any other information that you think would be helpful.

1. What is the purpose of your site? What do you want it to do for your organization?

2. How does this purpose fit into the larger mission of your business, organization or project? In other words, how will the site interface with the other parts of your business or organization?

3. Do you have examples of similar sites that you like or don't like? What do you or don’t you like about them?

4. What do you like or dislike about your current site?

5. What colors would you like to use (please choose 3-5 colors)?

6. What colors do you want to avoid?

7. If you already have a logo, do you want it to stay the same? If not, what changes do you want in it?

8. Is there a particular style of site or look that you like?

9. What are the approximate number of pages you want and their function? (About us, Clients, etc.) Please list the pages that you need.

10. Do you have the content for the site in hand or would we need to create it? Do you hold the copyright for the content?

11. What is your time frame or deadline?

12. What is your budget? This may seem like a nosy question, but knowing your budget constraints is essential for us to ensure that we accomplish what you want to do with your website while staying within those constraints. We need to know your budget so that we can make a long-term plan that will enable us to build your website in phases if necessary and properly prioritize the order we put features in place if your current budget does not allow for every feature you might want at this point. This will save you money in the long run because we can craft this plan to use your web resources as wisely as possible so you don’t have to do workarounds and expensive redos down the road. It is one of the most important factors in ensuring that your web project will be a success.

12. Which of the following features do you want? Please describe them.

           A content management system that a non-technical person could add content to as required

           E-commerce capabilities

            Slide shows or other animated content

            Forms (contact, work orders, etc.)

            Google stats to track the traffic to the site 


           Social media links

            Twitter and Facebook feeds

            Videos and podcasts

            Photo Gallery/Portfolio

            Advanced search capability – filtering, maps

            Member only access to content

            Member groups and management (controlling access by group membership)

            Google maps

            Favorites/wish list capability

13. Once the site is up, do you have on-going expansion plans? If so, what are they?

14. What are your on-going maintenance requirements?

15. Will this site need to be compatible in look and function with other non-web media – business cards, brochures, posters, T-shirts, tickets, name tags? If so, what will those include? Do you want us to design those? If not, can you provide them so that we can use them as a guide in creating the website?

16. Does the site need to be compatible with a larger corporate identity? If so, do you have any guidelines or a style guide that we can use as a resource?

17. Do you have any guidelines for specific features we need to be sure to avoid in the design or function of this site?

After the client returns the filled out questionnaire, we schedule a meeting with them. Before the meeting, we carefully review the questionnaire and look at their current website, those of others in the same industry and those that they mentioned on their questionnaire that they like or dislike. 

The meeting is an informal, friendly but direct conversation with the client, with both the designer and web developer present.

We ask the following questions:

1. What does your company do? Who is the client?

 2. What is your role in the company?

 3. What story are we telling with this web project? What conversation are we having? What experience are we designing? What is the site’s goal and purpose?

 4. Is the goal realistic and specific? If not, we help move it on that direction during the meeting.

 5. What is your company's mission statement? Does it need to be revised for this project?

 6. Brand - A website is where your company’s brand exists and is defined. We need to determine:

  • The brand’s image in the mind of your audience.
  • The website’s appearances, offerings, behaviors and messages that determine how your brand will be perceived.
  • Your brand’s personality.
  • Your brand’s positioning in the market.
  • Your brand’s values.

 Is the brand global or specific? Pragmatic? Simple or ornate? Optimistic or darker? Respectful of the user?

7. Any purely cosmetic goals for the site?

8. What information do you wish to provide online and in what formats - text, photos, video?

 9. Who are the site’s users? Their age, gender, physical location, interests.

10. What is the industry or landscape in which your company operates? Who are your competitors and how are they positioned in the market?

11. Discuss websites they like and what they like about them.

12. Sometimes clients have their own logo and sometimes they want us to create one for you. If so, we ask the following questions:

  • What is the one thing that is most important for the logo to convey?
  • The specific secondary feelings the logo should convey.

We usually defer a detailed discussion about the logo design until a later design meeting. These questions are merely to start us and the client thinking about the logo design.

13. Website colors – define what they are, in swatches if possible, and what they are not.

14. Typography

15. What experience are we trying to create visually? What style or look? What world are we bringing the user into?

16. What will be the approximate number of pages and their function, as well as generally how the content will be organized? This is a question that clients generally have to be guided through and it will be expected to evolve later as the site develops. Our goal at this point is to get a clear enough idea to price the project and write a project proposal.

17. What does the navigation provide access to? (task, information?) The order of options, arrangement on the page, font type and size, color.  Work through this in a general way with the client. It too will evolve as the project evolves.

18. Technology - What technology is needed or useful in this situation? How can the technology amplify the message? Define the technology requirements and constraints.

We go over with the client our standard package, which includes:

  • Mobile device compatibility/responsive design.
  • A content management system that a non-technical person could add content to as required.
  • Google stats
  • Search engine
  • Social Media links (Basic social media links are included in the proposed price. More sophisticated integration with social media will be an extra expense and will depend on what is needed.)
  • E-mails that are sent from the website’s web address.

We then discuss other features to determine whether they will be needed and find out the client's ideas about them:

  • E-commerce capabilities
  • Secure download capability
  • Slideshows or other animated content
  • Forms
  • Contact Form
  • Forms that non-registered users can fill out
  • Slide-down forms (sections or the whole form)
  • Blogs
  • Navigation
    Drop-down Menu
    Accordions that show/hide
    Flyout menu
    Clients often want navigation that will not work well on mobile devices. When this is the case, we point out the difficulties and try to give them choices that will provide a better result.
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Popup Windows/Fancy box
  • Registration/log-in
  • Users can access and manage their own content
  • Member groups and management
  • Calendar
  • Google maps
  • Callouts
  • Wizards
  • Advanced search capability, such as maps and filtering
  • Favorites/wish list capability
  • Large background

19. Budget constraints

What are they?

Is there a way we can do this in phases?

Do a rough order-of-magnitude budget estimate that is the amount that can't be exceeded if the project is to have an acceptable return.

If the client’s budget is too small to do what they want to, give them choices if possible.

20. The client's time constraints/deadline.

21. Our skills. Do we have the right skills to pull off this project? Will we need to outsource any work? Discuss the cost of this with the client. 

22. Go over the risks of failure or difficulties. Can we and the client handle them? Potential risks:

  • No experience on this kind of project.
  • Insufficient time devoted to any of the stages. Backing into a deadline. 
  • Key information not written down or defined. Make a system to avoid this.
  • No cost-benefit analysis or feasibility study.
  • The project as conceived doesn't meet the needs.
  • The client won't listen to what will work.

23. Does the project as defined really meet the needs? Are other projects under way that address similar needs, create products that our project will need or use the same resources as our project? Does the project provide low cost, high performance design, consistent quality, fast delivery, on-time delivery, development speed, customization and volume flexibility? How can we use design and technology to reduce the friction in the sales flow, create new efficiencies and facilitating learning?

24. Social media considerations

How are we going to create or participate in a social media community with this website as the go-to hub?

An on-line Community has:

  • A deep sense of connection that members feel toward each other.
  • Collective sense of difference from others not in the community.
  • Shared rituals and traditions.
  • Moral responsibility - sense of duty or obligation to the community as a whole.
  • In addition, members can share proximity (geographic), purpose (a common task), passion (a common interest), practice (a common career or industry.

We need to provide members of the community with expertise, information, rewards and an ability to refer us to others.

What will people share – proximity, purpose, passion, practice (common career or industry), or connections with each other?

We need to avoid an ad approach on at least some social media.

We need to determine the type of language we will use to reach the users of the hub and social media outlets.

Are there popular tastemakers that we can create or make a part of the on-line community? How can we leverage opinion leaders?

How will we provide transparency?

How will we provide connectedness between members of the community?

How will we efficiently allow groups of people to contribute ideas, opinions, criticism, money?

How will we target people who already have the values of the website and then give them an opportunity to share them?

How can we reach the types of on-line users?

  • Status seekers who enjoy accumulating tokens of influence such as number of friends, awards.
  • Critics.
  • Socializers who go online for information about friends, events, games, social news and to stay in the loop.
  • Emcees who want to perform online.
  • Lurkers who are self-effacing but  can be influenced.
  • Buddies - strong sense of  friendship and likes to joke with friends online. and spend time with them online and in online activities.
  • Creators - the online community is a creative medium. Actively creates, builds, makes, publishes.
  • Pundits - a topic leaders or experts. Offer the latest news, opinions and observations.
  • Rebels - disrupt on-line chats and discussions.

On-line attitude and tone of the community.

Regular features or rituals on social media.



Sacred objects.

25. Trends in the Industry – New trends have less to do with the people trying to propagate them and everything to do with whether they naturally come from the culture.

26. Define where the project starts and stop in a clear written statement. Confirm this with the client.

27. Define the restrictions on the results, resources, the way you can approach it.

28. Define the requirements that must be met to achieve project success.

29. Define what you will need in personnel and other resources.

30. Identify unknowns and decide what assumptions you must make regarding these issues.

31. Content

Copyright information.

Do they want us to develop or format content?

Clarify all other possible media uses for the content.

32. Interface - What is the environment for the information?

What is the flow, controlled by the user? How do we get from one place to another? How do we use motion to give the user choice on demand? How can we steer on demand to make a dynamic channel? Animation needs to be there in the beginning.

 How can the interface add value to the client's product or service? Make using their product or service a better solution?

How can we create an experience the user will use and love?

Continuity across media and platforms, accessibility, usefulness. How can we have a seamless flow across media? TV to web to mobile technology? Print of all kinds?

Consider all the different ways that this is going to be used.

How can the richness of interaction become part of the brand we are trying to express?

33. Marketing – Do we have a great idea, at the right time? How can we make the design desirable, the implementation technically sound and cost effective, and the sales and marketing effective. How can we provide decent support for it?

34. What are on-going maintenance requirements once the site is up?

35. What future phases can we identify and plan for upfront?

36. If this is a redesign:

What are the site's visitors usually looking for when they come to your site?

What are the problems with the current design?

What does the client hope to achieve with a redesign?

Are there any elements of the current site that the client wants to keep?

How does the client think the visitors will react to a new site design?

At this point, we thank the client and tell them we will go over the information they have provided and let them know as quicikly as possible whether we can proceed with the project. If so, we will send them a proposal.

More on that that process in Discovery Process Part 2...