Great designs are measured by the questions asked before the work.

Congratulations! You have a new project in the pipeline. It may have been a while or it may have been a short amount of time since your last work as a designer, but one thing we all know about design is that you have to understand what is really going on inside the project.

Hint: take notes when you ask inportant things

Understanding a project is a vital part of what we do in the design industrial. For us to be able to deliver on a project in a way that addresses it’s specific need and delivers value to it’s audience, you have to be able to ask great questions.

What makes a “great question?”

Well that’s a great question! (Sorry, I had to.) The reason a question is asked is to get valuable information that you otherwise couldn’t obtain, but the quality of that value is determined by how effective that information is. You need to target your questions towards getting an open ended response, not just a binary ‘yes’ or ‘no.’

It is important that you know the distinction between these types so that asking open ended questions for the intent of answering a need becomes second nature to you. There are questions that may seem open ended but are really just filler questions. Those ones like “What do you want for dinner?” or “What is your favorite color?” usually equate to single response answers. (BTW: pizza and forest green #424f42)

The sweet spot is in finding the balance between specific question and open ended. “What are your existing brand assets?” hits that spot by understanding part of your needs as a designer to deliver quality work is to attain the files for the project. What makes this a quality question is that it leaves it open for answers that you may not have been expecting. You’ll only learn to do this by using open ended questions more often; so get to practicing.

What are you trying to solve?

When starting to ask questions, you need to be writing the answers down. So grab your favorite pen and sit down somewhere and ask people anything. Your goal is to get to the heart of the issue as quick as possible. A cheap but effective question that does this is the only broad open ended question you should really ask is “why?”

I hear this often on the seanwes network

“How to get to the core of something: ask why until the answer stops changing.”

You can use this when you feel like your information that you receive from a question doesn’t solve what you need to. If someone is saying “I need a website for my business” you can ask why until you get to the underlying reason. Maybe they need a website because all the foot traffic for that business has gone down because everyone is ordering online now… you never know until you ask.

Don’t ‘ask questions’ for the sake of asking them.

Open communication will lead to a successful design. But you want to be sure that you’re being efficient and direct with the questions you ask. If your goal is to increase the conversion of online shoppers, asking “what fish do you usually catch during the summer” is not an efficient way of getting that answer. You have to understand your goal to understand which questions to continue with.

I’m not saying that fish question won’t help you understand the person you’re working for and their preference at all. But if your client’s target audience has issues with fishing or harming animals of any kind, having a spot for the client’s fishing habit is actually going to work against the effectiveness of the design. Also answering questions is taxing on the attention span of your client and your audience, so having things streamlined will lean towards improving the quality of your overall answers.

As you tally down your list of questions, understand that it’s okay to ask more about the project as you go along. Remember that list of questions is going to change as you figure out what works and what doesn’t.

What questions have worked for you (or not worked for you) in the past?

Leave a comment below and help out by recommending this to a friend!

Darian Rosebrook is the Design Lead over at His creative eye is driving us forward as an ever-growing, ever-improving brand.

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