Download example Design Questionnaire
I remember spending one long afternoon in a meeting with bank reps about an e-learning program they wanted. Lots of talking, lots of scribbling, smart bunch of people - we all thought the message was getting across. But something still wasn't clear. "What's your number one objective with making this program? What's the number one thing you want them to learn?" Remarkably it was neither procedure, nor techniques nor any word that had ever been spoken that entire day. "Accountability" they replied. The answer is unimportant. The fact that no one had ever put it forward until now, and only did so because someone asked the right question, is what's vital. A good marketing professor taught me to Always, ALWAYS ask "What is your objective?". What do you want to get out of this project? website? ad campaign, business, learning program, etc.
Asking the kinds of questions that will exhume the golden nuggets of information up front can save you days of frustration, dissatisfaction or even embarrassment later. That's why it's good to start every project with an interview, questionnaire or both. I send one off to the people I work with, before I start to design. Sometimes I go through it with them, but giving them time on their own to do it can relieve pressure, get them thinking or allow them to get others involved. In response I get enlightening information about what they love and hate (some people harbor violent dislike for Arial, for example, or any text size below 14pt.) Good to know how not to tick them off up front. It's also enlightening to find out what they do like, what the values of their organisation are (would they choose words like "conservative", "strength", "security" or is "creative", "fun" and "friendly"). Different answers have massively different implications for the look and feel.
Much in this mini-questionnaire example is directly inspired by the work and process Hillman-Curtis and I highly recommend their book MTIV: Process, Inspiration, and Practice in the New Media Designer.