20 questions clients ask before choosing a designer

20 questions for designers

Choosing a designer can seem like a daunting task. You need to know if you can trust this person with the reputation of your company, because what they produce will, in many cases, give a potential customer their first impression of your business.

What follows will aid your search, and help keep you on track during the initial stages of a working relationship. This article has been kindly written by guest author, Leslie Tane Hannus, owner of Leslie Tane Design.

Leslie Tane Design

A huge part of having your own business is recruiting new projects, and to that end I figure that in the past eleven years, I’ve probably been interviewed by over 1,000 clients, either in person or on the phone. These days I average 3ā€“5 interviews a week, but I started out a lot more slowly. I’ve always been a fairly good interviewee, but I have definitely gotten better over time. Part of the reason is that I’m often asked the same questions, and I’ve had time to work up my answers. Want to see how you’d fare? Here are some of the questions I get asked most often, and a little bit of commentary:

1. Will you tell me a little bit about yourself?
I vividly remember the first time I was asked this, because my reply was a blank look. Needless to say, I didn’t get that job. This is an especially good question to practice, because ideally you want to sum yourself up in no more than two minutes. Your answer should be work related ā€” no-one wants to hear about your piercings and favorite Aunt Maggie. This is your chance to brag a little, too. “I decided to pursue graphic design after a summer course at Harvard” sometimes makes my highlight list. If I’m talking to another graphic designer, I might mention the class I took with Milton Glaser.

(And you see how sneakily I’ve worked both of those into this blog entry?) If you see your interviewer’s eyes start to glaze over, cut yourself short. I’ve found that no-one is ever as interested in my stories as I am (except maybe my Mom, but she’s not hiring.)

2. How long have you been in business?

3. Do you have an office space, or are you home-based?

4. How many people work in your office?

5. What’s your specialty?

6. Have you worked on this kind of a project before?
Be honest. If you haven’t, but have done something you think is similar, say that too.

7. How much does it cost?

8. I know exactly what I want. Can I get a discount on your price, because you won’t have to do as much work?
Be very wary of this type of client. I used to offer a discount ā€” it seems fair, doesn’t it? The client has done most of the work for me. But that’s not the way it usually pans out. Quite often, the idea won’t work for the medium, or it just won’t work. Then I’m doing all of the design work I usually do, for less money.

9. What are your payment terms?

10. How long is your turnaround time?
I usually over-estimate. If I take all the time I’ve said, fine. If I get it done earlier, I’m a hero. It’s always bad business practice to be late.

11. Who will I work with on this project? Who does the actual design work?

12. What’s included with my project?

13. What do I need to provide?

14. What if I’m not happy with the design?
Have an answer for this. “What do you mean? Of course you’ll be happy with the design!” is optimistic, but it’s better to have a plan in place for those rare times when the designer and the client just can’t get on the same page.

15. Who owns the design once it’s finished and paid for?

16. Do you have references?

17. What happens if you go out of business?
This is more relevant when it’s a web design project, which can last for the life of a site, than a print design one, which is finite.

18. Can you send me some samples?

19. Will you show me a few samples of your ideas for my project so I can get a feel for your work?
My answer is always no. David has a great entry about spec work in graphic design, and in short: don’t do it. You should be able to refer potential clients to your portfolio to get a feel for the type and quality of the work you do. If your portfolio feels thin, offer to do some pro bono work for a cause you believe in, or rework pieces you’ve done that that didn’t make the portfolio cut.

20. Why should I hire you for the job?
Practice this one, too. It’s very difficult to answer this without coming across as over-confident or seeming too self effacing. Sometimes I hit it just right. Other times I wish I could get a do-over.

About the author, Leslie Tane
Leslie Tane is the owner and creative director of Leslie Tane Design, based in Massachusetts, USA.

“We specialize in creative solutions for print design and web sites.”

For more articles like these and a contest or two, visit Leslie’s blog.

P.s. from David: A big thanks to Leslie for taking the time to write this guest article.

29 responses

  1. This is nice stuff…
    Clients not only look at what you answer for their questions but also how you go about it.. so being prepared for these might show you in a good light.. as someone who is experienced and who knows what he is doing…

    Thanks Leslie..

  2. Good article, a lot of these questions can work for software too. I’ve only did design work for a couple of people because my forte is development, but design is much more fun to read about! I will keep this list in mind for the next time I do some design/development work. Thanks.

  3. I like the 20 questions…it helps both designers and clients know what exactly goes into getting a good design started (the process) and what each side is going through to get it.

    Good work always deserves good pay!!!

  4. Asking a ton of questions is sure to not only help you understand what you are getting, but also ensure the designer knows you really care about the work being done.

  5. So true with these questions. I have only been to a couple of interviews before and each time I always asked what programs do you know and where did you study?

  6. I try to answer most of those sorts of questions in my quotations, my quotations cover;

    – The project specifics…ie what they get exactly for the price.
    – Copyright terms.
    – Payment terms.
    – Timescales if they indicated an interest in these in their initial enquiry.
    – What happens if they aren’t happy with the design (basically says tough, you have to pay for it anyway)

    Funnily enough I’ve never been asked if I work from home or an office or if I have a team or anything like those sorts of questions. Non of my clients seem interested in that.

    I’ve also never been asked how long I’ve been in business – it’s probably fairly obvious from the size of my website and portfolio that it’s been a while!

  7. I couldn’t agree more, Jason. Thanks for commenting.

    Jacob, I do get those questions, too, but I used to get them more when I was applying for a job versus bring interviewed by a potential client. Where did you study (or where did you go to school) is a classic.

    Amanda, that’s a great idea to answer these types of questions in your quotation. I tried to include questions here that people ask me even before we get to the quotation — during our initial interview. I’m also amazed at how many potential clients contact me without even looking at my web site, because they’ve gotten my name from a friend. Word of mouth is my favorite way to get new clients, but it does leave me with extra explaining to do.

    Thanks for reading, everyone!

  8. Hi Leslie
    Good post, a great idea to practise your responses – it’s never fun being totally stumped by a question in interview.
    We quite often get people trying to negotiate price with us before we have even firmed up a brief. Ususally they say, “well so and so down the road will do it for x amount why can’t you?”.
    Of course our response is: “Because we will do it properly!”
    Another question we get is: “What happens if you go bust and shut up shop in the middle of our project?”.
    These people have obviously been stung by design cowboys who don’t complete projects. So we say: “we have been going for 7 years bla bla…..”


  9. Nice post Leslie. I think it’s always a good idea to prepare for any kind of interview.

    I have found that the hardest people for me to talk to initially are my relatives…..followed closely by friends. It’s a fine line you walk when someone close to you or related to you wants you to do design work for them. I’d be interested in hearing how people work with clients such as these early on.

  10. Thanks Toni and Steven. It sounds like we have a lot in common…

    Diogo – mission accomplished! It was an interesting class.

    Hi Karly! When I work for friends and relatives, I actually have them sign contracts, just like any other client. It’s not that I don’t trust them, but I do feel it puts the work on a professional level and that benefits both of us. It sounds obnoxious, but I find that it works and no one has ever been offended by it.

    I’m glad you found this helpful, John! Thanks for reading.

  11. I’ve been searching around for a new design and have complied a few questions myself when approaching designers. This list really helps out a lot and I’ll be using it soon.

    Thanks for the help, I’ll be tuned in via RSS from now on.

  12. Yes, I also get quite a few people contacting me from recommendation and it’s clear they haven’t even visited my site yet.

    Just shows how powerful a recommendation can be eh? How much people will trust word of mouth.

  13. I have hired so many graphic designers in the past year. But the truth is I ask price first and ask for a sample of how they would approach my project. Questions like “why should i hire you” are, IMHO, more for hiring a personal assistant or recruiter, not a designer. Look at the work and that’s all the proof you need. Look at their folio!!


  14. Hi Leslie,

    Thanks again for this excellent guest post. Sorry that my site was down for a week or so. Come back anytime with your great insights!

    Thanks to everyone else for commenting, and making Leslie feel at home.

  15. David,
    Really, thank you for letting me post here. You have the nicest readers.

    SUCH a bummer about your domain name hack job. I changed everything on my site to reflect the new domain name. If there’s anything I can do to help, let me know.

  16. Yeah, my readers are great people aren’t they? It’s an honour to have them visit and contribute to the discussion.

    Thanks very much for changing my details on your site. That’s a big help. ;)

  17. Very good summary of questions that I wish some (or all) of my clients would have asked before starting a project. Too often the focus is to get the price right and then right down to the solution (drafts), skipping the whole process of going through a well formulated brief and all that. Or asking the right questions before they might become a problem.

  18. Hi David
    as a fellow designer I always enjoy reading your blog it’s very insightful.
    And Leslie I run in to many of these questions from clients that hire me to do work for them.
    How ever one that is most difficult to answer for me is number #10 How long is your turnaround time? I always tell clients it depends on when they get materials to me. It’s very difficult to provide a solid turn around time when clients trickle information to me.

    Thanks again great article.

  19. Hello Glen,

    I can fully empathise with you. Clients trickling information to the designer doesn’t help one bit where timelines are concerned. As much as I advise clients it’s best to begin designing once all the information has been gathered together, it often doesn’t work that way.

  20. About point number “8. I know exactly what I want. Can I get a discount on your price.” Yes this is definitely a cause for concern. I used to do a discount on the price too but the truth is you do end up doing just as much work only you are limited to very narrow ideas. About point number “19. Will you show me a few samples.” This should be a definite no as you have to be careful they may well just be after your ideas! Thanks for the great post Leslie Tane.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *