As a branding, packaging, and digital product designer, both at Input Logic and as a freelancer, I work with clients across a wide array of industries, and am responsible for simultaneously getting to the heart of what each client wants and translating those wants into beautiful designs.

I’ve done my fair share of research on how to best approach new design projects and sprints and there’s a lot out there. What I find is lacking, is about engaging with clients. How can we ask questions to guide their experience and explorations?

Not just about how it looks

Seeing as we all know that design isn’t just about what looks good, it’s logical that we should emphasize creating meaningful conversations at the beginning of a design sprint so that everyone understands what the intended outcomes are. This sounds like a no-brainer, but once you experience a project riddled with bumpy communication, it makes sense why it’s so important to emphasize information sharing at the very beginning.

Getting to the heart of the product, understanding its’ users, and knowing the client’s vision should always be priorities during a design sprint, no matter the size or scope. As a designer, I find my job is to pull out what the client wants! Sometimes this isn’t always readily available, so we use questions to guide that process of opening up.

The beginning of a sprint is a crucial time, and jump-starting a relationship that values the sharing of these thoughts and opinions will lead to more thoughtful design. Open-ended questions get people talking, and it’s the little details that come out of responses that impact the relationship for the better. This dialogue creates a heightened common understanding, leading to more productive design reviews, followed by the outcome of high-quality design that fits the product. Great conversation early on leads to better design outcomes delivered on time, because everyone starts on the same page.

What does the client bring to the table?

Clients usually come to a sprint with a strong understanding of their business and position in the market. Our job here is to take in that information and apply our ability to use design to solve problems. This wealth of insight can come to us in many forms:

  • Documents
  • Moodboards
  • Spreadsheets
  • Sketches
  • Notes

Often useful information is tucked away in the clients brain and can be revealed through conversation. Some clients think through many of these questions on their own, while others are prompted by them to find new insights about their product, users, and goals. Translating thoughts and ideas into something coherent can help to expand on ideas that haven’t been explored yet, and work through explaining complex thoughts. It is valuable for everyone involved to understand details, so communication is seamless, and there is a deep understanding of what they’re working on.

We break up these questions into a few categories: background, the audience, and tone. The more a designer understands these, the stronger the design process will be, and the branding will be enriched with all the right insight. Treating the answers to these questions as though they are for someone who isn’t familiar with the product will also expand the way the questions are answered and may bring up entirely new ideas and thoughts.

Background

I usually start with questions around the background of the company or product, such as:

  • What is the story behind your brand?
  • What is your elevator pitch?
  • What problem does your product help solve in your space?
  • Is there any existing documentation you have that could be used to better understand the market surrounding your brand?

List 10 words that describe your brand, or the ideal future for your brand (adjectives, nouns, verbs, etc).

Many of the answers to these open-ended questions might feel redundant by the time a design sprint begins, but insight can be found in the way they are answered. Is the story behind the brand to do with a family member or childhood friend that served as the inspiration? Or maybe the origin came out of first-hand experience or problem, and in turn, the product aims to solve it.

The origin and background of a product is often an area in which many similar products may have something that differentiates them, and these details are often valuable as a piece of reference material when building a brand.

Each product has a unique background, and while some may find an emphasis on the story behind the product, others may see the solving a specific problem as a big part of the story. For example, a brand who’s background is rich in family history might find that this is important to carry this through into the branding, creating a more personal and approachable feel. In exploring these questions, the importance is finding what that emphasis or strength is, and focusing on it.

Audience

Once I understand the background and story behind a company, I start to ask questions about their target market:

  • Who is your brand for? Describe your customer.
  • How do people find out about your brand?
  • What features or benefits does this identified target audience seek that your product is offering?

Understanding the customer is very important, as we all know. In some cases, maybe the client belongs to their target demographic, making it easy for them to understand their customer. In other situations, it might take some exploration to identify who the target customers are. This can take many forms — from examining competitors customers to diving deep into the product and it’s features to identify who would be likely to use it. This is crucial to building a visual identity, as it creates a high level of empathy and understanding for when, why, and how a user might interact with the product.

On top of identifying the target audience, It’s also crucial to understand some of the more subtle interactions that these people have surrounding the brand. While a lot of insight into the customer base comes from research in the form of interviews, testing, focus groups and surveys, it’s still beneficial to identify if anyone out there has published research surrounding the identified target market segment. Having a general understanding is a great place to start, and will help aid the design process to be on track with the right look and feel for the intended customer.

Tone

Once I understand the background and audience, then I like to dig into the tone and voice the customer expects:

  • What existing brands are similar to yours in spirit (doesn’t need to be the same industry). Describe the connection.
  • What feeling do you get when you think about your brand?
  • What do you want people to understand, feel, or believe about your product?
  • If your brand was a period or era, when would it be & why?

Many things influence the tone or attitude of the brand, including the background and audience. Often, the intended customer might expect a certain voice or feeling from the product, while others might be more open or even expect something different. In terms of the design process, the tone is one of the most crucial portions of research that influences design, which can come in the form of visual appearance or even microcopy. In many cases, we see a lot of value in hiring a copywriter who is experienced with the target market. For example, if the voice of the product is youthful, fresh, and innovative, this has a direct influence on things such as colour, and typography, as well as the type of vocabulary that is used when communicating.

The value of open-ended questions

Open-ended questions bring up a myriad of different response types, which is what makes them so valuable for gaining insight. Answers could come in the form of a story, documentation, keywords, concise explanations, or even conceptual feelings that the product aims to communicate. While some questions might take some time to answer and clients will benefit from having time to think through them independently, it’s also important to use them as a tool for conversation, let them naturally flow, and engage with the responses. Most importantly, take notes! Having this valuable insight is a great resource to come back to later.

Putting it into practice

Identifying actionable steps is great, but putting them into practice is better. How can these questions be put into use? However they’re applied, whether in a survey before the kickoff call, or brought up naturally in conversation, we must use them to create dialogue, rather than an interview-style where we simply ask, answer, and move on to the next question. Refer to them during a kickoff call at the beginning of a project, use them as a guide for conversation, and create a dialogue around them. These questions can and should be used as a tool for designers and project managers to gain insight into the client’s perspective and vision, as well as for the clients to communicate their expectations.

In Closing

Want to learn more about how we approach branding engagements at Input Logic? Reach out below!

- Lula Christman, Product Designer at Input Logic

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