How to Create an Effective Web Design Questionnaire

Mar 22 2008 by Jacob Gube | 22 Comments

lead image - Question! - by -bast-The internet has given the web professional a plethora of venues for seeking project-based work. With lots of places offering freelance gigs such as allfreelance.com, classified listing sites such as craigslist , and job boards on popular weblogs such as FreelanceSwitch and Smashing Magazine, the resourceful web builder can scout and find jobs that extends their geographical boundaries.

An effective creative questionnaire allows you to gain relevant, focused, and helpful design information without taking up a lot of the client’s time. I use the term “questionnaire” because it’s a familiar term, but as you’ll see, some examples aren’t questions.

This article is primarily about developing a one-way questionnaire where you aren’t there to explain or expound on the questions you’ve asked the respondent, though the same concepts apply whether you’re communicating via email or during a face-to-face meet.

Keep it as short as possible

Long questionnaire forms, in my experience, tend to result in rushed responses. Keep questions and the survey as short, concise, and clear as possible. We have to respect the client’s time. Typically, a demand for a website arises when a business is just starting out or when current solutions can’t meet increasing demands; either way, they’ve got a lot on their plate already.

Instead of:

Think for a moment about your company’s mission statement – How does that traverse into the online world and how will a website achieve your mission statement?”

simply say:

In your mind, what’s the business value of having a website?”

The latter example is terse and unambiguous. Let them do the writing, keeping yours to a minimum.

Include creative questions, preferably in the beginning

A creative question, in this context, refers to unconventional questions that have two goals:

  1. to extract information indirectly – “If your website was a car, what car would it be?”
  2. to get the respondent in a mood where they’re comfortable to say anything without restraint.

An effective questionnaire gets the client’s uninhabited, raw thoughts and emotions. Including them at the start can set this tone early on in the process.

Examples of creative questions

  • Imagine a typical user browsing your website, what would they be thinking right now?
  • Use one word to describe your website.
  • What features of your website would your competitors be most envious of?
  • If your website disappeared for a week, what would your users miss the most?

Provide example responses to focus and clarify your meaning

Your questions may seem crystal clear to you, but to the client, it may mean another thing. Provide sample responses to direct your client’s answers.

Some examples:

  • List down key words that you associate with your company. Without prompts, you can get very colorful responses like “awesome”, “da bomb”, “where I get money for my gambling debts”. Adding “For example, a Spanish restaurant may use ‘paella’, ‘international’, ‘culture’” would make your question less vague.
  • What types of designs do you like? You can indicate your expected answer by saying instead, “Please view these websites [then, list down some website addresses]. What do you like about them? What do you hate about them?

Avoid unfocused open-ended questions

An open-ended question is one that allows the respondent to answer in a less-structured fashion. For example, an open-ended question would be, “what do you think about web 2.0?”. In contrast, a closed-ended question would be, “What’s one thing you like about web 2.0?”

Open-ended questions are a necessity in design questionnaires, but avoid ones that are vague and overly generalized.

Examples

  • Describe the design you want. You can focus the respondent’s answers by saying instead, “Write specific design features that you’d like to see in the design mock-up”.
  • Describe the nature of your business. This can be revised to: “Describe a typical day in your place of work”.

Evolve (tailor) your questions

Web development projects typically take week to a month’s worth of work. This means that you can—and should—take the time to customize your questionnaires for each of your clients. If you use a web-based form, this can be a bit more tedious, but it can be done by sending more questions in an email. Not only will this allow you to gain information unique to the client’s industry, it also shows that you’re giving personal attention to their needs.

Typically, I prefer to have only ten questions per questionnaire, seven of which are my standard questions and three are tailored towards the client’s particular organization.

What to do after you receive a response

Internalize it. What I do after getting a questionnaire back is I read it thoroughly, once or twice. I digest the information I’m given by rewriting and rephrasing the responses on a text file that I keep open as I design the mock-up. Embrace the subtleties of your client’s responses, take notice of grammar or spelling mistakes, all of this can be significant in helping you learn about the people you’re working with.

Example:

Website name: My AWESOME Company
Tagline: This is so awesome that I capitalized "Awesome"
Preferred colors: none specified, but described as  “high-impact”
Look and feel: Web 2.0, gradients, large text
Key words (design theme): fun, young, colorful

Ask for clarification if needed. Don’t be timid in following-up on answers that seem unclear to you. Ask as soon as you can so that your client still remembers the questionnaire-answering session.

Use it to strengthen your mock-up presentation. Use the responses while presenting your initial design mock-up to explain the design direction you took. Quote responses verbatim, if appropriate. For example, if you chose a sans-serif font face, you can say “In your response, you indicated that you wanted a clean, modern, professional design, which is showcased in the mock-up by the dark-gray, Arial font…” If you chose green hues, you can say “You mentioned that you needed a website that ‘evokes a feeling of cleanliness and ‘eco-friendliness”, so I decided to use green hues to…”

Use their responses to explain why you decided to use certain colors, a certain layout, why you avoided particular elements, etc.

Some other tips I’ve found helpful

Outline the purpose and relevant information in an introductory paragraph. Describe the purpose of your questionnaire. Assert what you expect to get as a response. Indicate the importance of the questionnaire. Typically, I’ll say something along the lines of “You are a very important part of the design process so your responses here will prove to be a valuable asset throughout the project”.

Let the client know how much time to take. Most of the time, this avoids rushed responses. I ask each respondent to take between 30 minutes to 1 hour so that they may properly answer the questionnaire.

Leave out the tech jargon. It doesn’t impress anyone, and it will only annoy them if they don’t know what you’re talking about. Use terms that are common knowledge.

Fix flawed questions. Every few projects (usually I do it every three projects or so), I take my most current questionnaires and I evaluate each question for its usefulness and clarity.

Fill out your own questionnaire. I’ve found it very enlightening to fill out my own questionnaire form. When you write the questions yourself, you don’t really think too much about the effort and the process of responding to them. I’ve found questions where I thought, “Man, I don’t want to answer this, it’s too damn long and I’ve got so much stuff going on”. Try it, at the very least, it’s a fun activity.

22 Comments

Stoian Adrian

March 22nd, 2008

Interesting post for both service providers & service buyers.

Denver Web Design

March 22nd, 2008

Great write up. While I’m confident in our boring lil questionnaire, this article definitely gives some good tips on spicing it up

Abbotsford Web Design

March 24th, 2008

We’ve recently started using a standardized questionnaire to determine the ones who have thought out their online venture. It’s always interesting to see some of the responses.

Geoserv

March 25th, 2008

I will be editing our questionnaire and following these tips.

Web Design Lincolnshire

March 30th, 2008

Excellent post, getting primary data is so important for your target audience,

Tony Chester

April 1st, 2008

Thank you for this excellent write up. I’ve been on the fence about simplifying our client survey and you’ve just pushed me over. Time to hit the drawing — or is that writing — board.

CommerceStyle

April 15th, 2008

I like to use a 2 part survey. The first tackles the more design oriented questions such as colors and personal style and is always done in person with the client. The second is really just an extension of the first, but it for the client to take with them and fill out over a 2 day period.

I find that that first really gives me the information I need to start working on the mock-up and also provides some experience on filling out the survey since we’re present at the time. The second is a little more personal and gives me a feel for the clients personality, what they like, what they hate and so on.

It’s a solid process and uses a lot of whats mentioned in this article.

Catherine Lockey

May 23rd, 2008

You are right on target! This is a smart business practice for anyone in our field. It eliminates misunderstandings from the beginning.

Our questionnaires are also agreements which save both sides time and money. One of my favorite questions is, “What is your purpose in building a web site – in other words, what do you expect your web site to accomplish for you?

Another benefit – my clients watch me work hard taking notes and asking them questions. As we go through my questionnaire together they feel confident I will give them 100%.

S.Mohamed Riyaz

October 7th, 2008

Excellent article. I like the part ‘leave out tech jargon’ which is cent per cent true. I’ve worked with clients who don’t know even what is a navigation. If I simply say ‘links’ they understand. Funny but an Important matter we must consider when we correspond with clients.

Thanks a lot for the tips.

Sandy Scarfo

October 30th, 2008

Thanks – lots of great ideas both in the article and in the comments. I like CommerceStyle’s idea of a two-part questionnaire.

Iaan

January 7th, 2009

Very useful, thanks! Making some changes to our questionnaire right now.

Tous

August 1st, 2009

I like the article, but can’t you tell me where to find a site which lets you make one rather than telling me how to do it, cos thats what a lot of sites do.

ravi

September 24th, 2009

Excellent post, getting primary data is so important for your target audience,

Anton K.

October 4th, 2009

Great information. Those of you looking to just download a questionnaire, you most likely won’t be able to use it on your clients. Every company is unique. I’d suggest make your own questionnaire then come back to this post and read it again. Then optimize your questionnaire with this info.

WKD

November 8th, 2009

Great article. I am currently designing a new questionnaire and your article has reinforced some basic concepts. Thanks. John

srnmrdr

December 2nd, 2009

thank you for the ideas!
excellent article.

Bathroom Glasgow

January 15th, 2010

Thanks a lot for the tips.

alan

August 4th, 2010

Very informative article. I am just wondering is it better to provide an e-form in customer panel or under the link sent in e-mail or stick to traditional, paper version.

I think it’s worth using (as CommerceStyle wrote) 2 parts survey where the first part is on paper and the second online. E-questionnaire can be interactive and stuffed with things like color examples, possible layouts, fonts, Ajax-based suggestions etc. Such features would save the customer’s time and make the filling out process quicker.

Auds Velasco

August 25th, 2010

Excellent article.. Having a good questionnaire would leads to a good creative brief from the client which leads to good end result or probably the best web design you ever done.

jerry

August 10th, 2011

THIS IS SIMPLY AWESOME

iClickster

September 25th, 2011

This is brilliant – have yet to come across such detailed post that not only explains the questions asked, but also to ask unique questions, proving the importance of customization for each client.

I feel exactly the same in terms of being unique towards each client.

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