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How to Prepare for a Web Design Project

A guide to researching and preparing for any size web design project.

One of the most common questions I get asked prior to project engagement is “How do we prepare for the project?” or “What do you need from us?”. Throughout the years I used to make a checklist for each client. Although it was quite tedious, it got the job done.

So after reflecting on the previous years, I’ve decided to put together a comprehensive guide to help clients prepare for a web project. Just a little disclaimer, this guide is intended for common website projects, not for large scale applications or systems (that guide will come in the future).

1. What Kind of Client are you?

The first step that each client needs to express is their involvement in the project. Some clients are much more trustworthy (or just completely disengaged) and want you to handle everything from strategy to creative to development. These kinds of clients are our favorite clients because they don’t send a design straight to hell, but consequently, I believe all projects that lack input from the client also lack real solutions.

Prior to engagement, every client should identify what kind of client they are. Each designer/project manager should make sure to identify this prior to project launch.

2. Do Your Homework Prior to Project Launch

Before you sit down with your designer you should make sure to do your homework. By homework, I mean going on the web and researching your industry, competitors and trends. Nine out of ten clients don’t do any homework at all. In fact, they sometimes don’t even identify their competition. Before you start a project you need to know what your competition is offering, what solutions they provide on their website and how they utilize their website to gain leads or sell products or whatever else they do.

3. Market and Demographic Research

Before you even begin to build a web plan or strategy, it is important to understand your market and your customers. You need to clearly identify the typical customer for your website and what they will be looking for. Every industry has a typical customer, whether it be a flower shop or a video production company, you will need to identify what the typical customer (who actually buys something) will be like and need.

For example, an insurance seller may be looking for small business owners who need insurance. The website, therefore, should be simple, clean and easy to access information. A video production company, on the other hand, should be creative, use vivid video presentations and contain a portfolio, this kind of site may be intended for advertising executives or PR companies, looking to partner with them.

Understand your customers and you’ll inevitable develop a product that suits their particular needs. If you fail to accomplish this then you may as well pack your bags and forget about the website.

4. Create a List of Pages, Content and Functionality

I’ve had so many clients that “need” a website and have all the content and material prepared. Most of the time, all they really have is a piece of paper with the name of a few pages they want. If your website is only 5 pages, and has nothing dynamic to it then that probably is a great list for the designer, but usually that’s not it.

Build a sitemap: A site map is like a table of contents for your website, it’s quite simple to do and it definitely helps the designer (and you) understand the scope of the project.

Also, one of the most important aspects of a web project is understanding the functionality. You’ll need to make a list of the functions you want, i.e. shopping cart, blog, CMS, dynamic content, etc. If you don’t tell the designer until after the project has already begun then you will not only frustrate the designer but also incur some additional costs. Usually it is cheaper and easier for everyone if the scope and functionality is defined in the beginning.


Some clients believe this is the role of the web designer…which is usually not true. When you engage in a contract with a designer or creative team, you need to identify the deliverables. If you are hiring someone to make your website then that’s it, that’s all your paying for and that’s probably all your going to get. If you want brand development, creative development and marketing, then that is a completely different project scope and will incur much higher costs.

If you are on a budget, I would suggest doing your own homework, researching your industry and presenting your thoughts to your creative team. Otherwise, you will get a completely disengaged design. If your designer knows what your goals are, who your competition is and what your industry trends are, then he is more likely to create a product that fits perfectly into the competitive market.