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?”
“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:
- to extract information indirectly – “If your website was a car, what car would it be?”
- 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.