I’ve designed and freelanced for over 10 years now. In that amount of time I’ve worked on everything from biz cards to multi-million dollar fundraising campaigns, and the most important phase of each and every project was at the very beginning, when I asked questions, questions, questions of the client to get their thoughts, feelings, likes, dislikes, etc. That info is the most important step in any good design project. Design doesn’t happen in a vacuum and too many designers make things for themselves (I’m at fault here), not for the client. They design for designers.
Anyway, I saw this interview on allgraphicdesign and loved what Lauren Peone said. Quoted here, linked to the full article.
Before I begin any project I require the client to provide some basic art direction (its right in the contract). Who is their target market? Who is their competition (who will they be on shelf next to)? Do they have a specific look/feel/theme in mind? Colors? Typeface styles? Description of café…tell me a little more about you? In the case of large corporations, do they have a style guide I need to follow?
From here I also have the customer send me designs that they like AND dislike along with a detailed description of why. The more details that you obtain from the customer, the easier it will be for you to create a smashing design. Sure, I’ve received push back and comments such as, “you’re the designer so you should have all the creative ideas”, but I’ve found that 9 out of 10 clients are more then willing to provide some basic direction to get the project started on the right foot.