Perhaps it sounds ironic, but one of the hardest parts of a web designer’s job occurs before the project actually begins. Figuring out website project requirements can stump even experienced designers.
Why is that? Quite often, it comes down to communication. Clients can understandably struggle with articulating their needs. Terminology is one part of the equation. But so is a grasp of how websites work in the first place. That’s why they hire a web designer.
Therefore, it’s usually up to designers to sort out the details – which can also be problematic. When two parties aren’t speaking the same language, it’s only natural that something gets lost in translation. And, even when you do have a solid idea of what a project needs, there are still items that seem to pop up unexpectedly.
None of this is an exact science. But some strategies can help you paint a clearer picture of what a website project will require. Below are a few ideas to point you in the right direction.
Look Beneath the Surface of Feature Requests
When discussing project requirements with a client, it’s rare that a feature is self-explanatory. These things always tend to be more than meets the eye.
For example, the weather forecast may tell you that it’s going to rain. But there’s a difference between a passing shower and a torrential downpour—the details matter.
Likewise, the mention of a shopping cart might sound simple enough. But eCommerce is an incredibly broad subject. What that term conjures up in your client’s mind might be decidedly different than your vision.
It’s not sufficient to simply know that a shopping cart is needed. There also needs to be a clear definition of what that cart is expected to do. As such, you’ll want to gather as much information as you can – with details like:
- What products and services are being sold?
- How will payments be processed?
- Is shipping needed? If so, how will that work?
- Will taxes/VAT need to be collected?
- What features will be implemented to provide customers with the best possible shopping experience?
The above questions are just scratching the surface. But the idea is to continue to unravel the various layers of the project. A few simple queries will get that process started.
As we mentioned, communication is a crucial factor in understanding a website project’s needs. And you have a secret weapon at your disposal that can help: your past experiences. They’re something you can use to improve both dialogue and direction.
One benefit of experience is the ability to recognize red flags. These are items that a client mentions that are either misguided or otherwise vague.
Consider a client who asks for a website – but only mentions desktop devices. Experience tells you that a modern website needs to work on all screen sizes. Thus, this is something to bring up in conversation. It may be that your client forgot to talk about mobile design or didn’t realize it was important.
This is another example of how a client’s stated requirements can often miss key components. Thankfully, you can lean on your experience to help fill those gaps.
Sometimes it’s easier to show someone a website feature than it is to explain it verbally. This is especially the case when it comes to more in-depth items like shopping carts or navigational UIs. But it could be useful for virtually everything else as well.
It also fits in with existing strategies. At the beginning of the design process, some designers ask clients for a list of websites they like. This provides us with solid ideas for various layout and design aspects. And it can also be great for determining website requirements as a whole.
For clients, features they’ve utilized on other websites often informs their own expectations. They can point to specific interactions or functionality that appeal to them. And, just as important, they can tell us what they don’twant. Perhaps an example website is only a portion of what they’re looking for. But it offers a starting point from which to build.
This also works both ways. Even if your client hasn’t provided you with any examples, you can introduce your own. Either way, it adds clarity with regards to project needs.
A website’s project requirements touch every area of the design and build processes. First and foremost, they determine the initial cost estimate. This ensures that you’re being paid fairly for the work that is being done.
Second, they also help to avoid the always-dreadful scope creep. By having a detailed list of requirements in hand, you’re less likely to run into items that were previously overlooked.
Make no mistake: it’s near-impossible to cover every potential need. Plus, there’s always a chance that requirements will evolve along with the project itself.
But improving communication and paying attention to detail can make a huge difference. By taking the steps above, you’ll gain a more complete picture of your projects. And that’s something that will benefit everyone.