How to understand the client’s needs on the first encounter?

Let’s begin this series by looking at one of the most pressing issues, which is understanding the specific needs of a client. In order to create and deliver a great project, it is fundamental to know who we are working with and what his or her requests are so that we can use this information to compile a preliminary worksheet.An essential tool that we can use to keep track of a client’s input is a brief.

What is a brief?

Briefs can be considered the foundation behind every great project: essentially it is a document which contains detailed information regarding your client. It is compiled once the client is met, with the objective of collecting as much information as possible, such as data and personal inputs from the client, that will help us in developing a web project.

Briefs are created when the client is met for the first time, and this first phase can be considered of great importance that will determine the final look of a given project. Briefs are not as popular as one might think, considering they are of obvious importance. For instance, projects are laid out as drafts, and eventually started without even considering the specific needs of a given client.

Working this way is useless: it is highly unlikely that one will be able to satisfy the needs of a client by working through trial-and-error, without having a valid point of reference.

Imagine being on a boat, ready to set sail from a port without even knowing where to go.
What are the chances that you will go shipwreck if you don’t’ know where you’re going exactly? What are the chances that you will arrive at a port that is in worse condition than the one you’re coming from? Chances are pretty high for both situations. And for a number of reasons. The main reason is because you don’t really know what you want, therefore it is impossible to realize anything.

This is what happens when one lacks organization.

What are the requests of the client?

In an ideal situation, a client would come to you with something already in mind, letting you know what his or her needs are. However, in reality clients can be confused and not have a clear idea as to what they want. Then it is up to you to listen to them, guiding them to the most adequate solution available.

If there’s something unclear, it is important to ask the client simple and concise questions: gathering data will become a much easier process and in the meantime you will avoid creating a sense of misunderstanding with the client.

What information do I have to gather from the client?

It is up to you to know what the needs of your clients are; so that you can then point them in the right direction.
Keep in mind that a brief will have to answer the following questions:

  1. Who: Who is our target audience?
  2. What: What are we offering to this target audience? (What’s our product line?)
  3. How: How can we make sure a potential customer knows that our offer is genuine? Is there any evidence that we can provide as proof?
  4. What main idea are we trying to convey to our target audience?

Once this basic set of information is obtained, we can go into more detail by sharing our ideas with the client and by debating on the various aspects of the project.

It can be useful to look at the websites of the client’s main competitors together with the client: this will help you get an idea of the client’s preferences concerning aesthetics, so that it will be easier for you to ask your client about what kind of look the site should have:

  • Does the client need to have corporate colors shown on the website (such as logos, brochures, labels)?
  • Does the client have any preferences in the colors that will be used?
  • Does he or she request a specific set of graphic-related elements?
  • Does the client want to have a photographic gallery or any type of animated effect?
  • Will the client provide the material that is going to be added in the website (such as images, logos, and text)?

This will allow you to understand better the needs of your client.

An outline of a brief, compiled at the end of a meeting with a client:

Details concerning the meeting: date and place, title of project, names and titles of participants.

Who is the client and what is his or her line of business.

What kind of objective does our client have? Does he or she want to sell products? Obtain better rankings? Advertise the services that are offered?

Target Audience
Who is the target audience? Who are the potential customers and/or users of this service?


Exactly what kind of service is the client requesting?

In this section we are to jot down some keywords that summarize and identify the client and his or her type of business. For example, if our client was involved in the auto-transport business, what kind of keywords would we jot down? Promptness, safety, efficiency, stability..

Key points
These are essential details that need to be written down.
For example: company colors, logos, images that will be used, the personal style of the client.


After reading the previous sections, you should know what the client expects from you. And, it should be clear what kind of work you will have to do for the client.
Before coming up with a preliminary estimate for the project, you should take some time to reflect.
What might seem to be an easy project that can be finished in a matter of hours, can turn out to be quite long and tedious: Do you want to avoid falling prey to this and working in total confusion?

If your answer to this question is yes, we suggest you take a look at the next article which will be published in the next days: How to calculate costs and delivery time of a web project avoiding the writing of pointless figures?

The other articles in this guide:

  1. How to understand the client’s needs on the first encounter?
  2. How to calculate costs and delivery time of a web project?
  3. How to develop and organize the structure of a website?
  4. How to find inspiration and design the layout of a website?
  5. How to present the graphic draft to the client?
  6. How to make the internal pages after the draft’s approval?
  7. How to export a psd into xhtml and css without losing your soul? (part1) (part 2)
  8. How to index a website without being SEO experts? (part 1) (part 2)
  9. How to make sure of not having committed errors before launching the website online?


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    The Author

    Web designer, has been working in the field of graphics and web development for six years and at the moment besides collaborating with a web agency successfully manages her freelance activity under the name of mascara design. Like many freelancers she is used to handling more roles, ranging from paper graphics to the development of html and css codes; nonetheless this passion of hers remains, always and however, web graphics.

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