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Gathering Information

Discovery is a thinking process. Its purpose is to allow team members to put themselves in the minds of the site's users and to understand as much as possible about the target audience(s), the company, the outgoing site, and the redesign project as a whole. To start, you need information. There are a lot of questions to ask; the surveys will get you going.

Internal Discovery

If you are working internally you are probably incorporating the Discovery process into your daily workflow. This includes looking at competitive sites, interviewing or meeting with your customers and any other method of gaining insight into your industry and audience. If this is the case, the Discovery process can be shortened and details incorporated into the Project Plan and Communication Brief.

For more technical projects, especially those that require complex functionality (and therefore a backend), anticipate Discovery and Planning taking anywhere from a week with one tech-savvy person to several weeks or months with a team of engineers. For more information, see Chapter 9.

On the whole, Discovery can take one week or many weeks, depending upon budget and approach. The Discovery team can be one person or a posse of researchers. Regardless, Discovery starts with the Client Survey.


  • Gathering Information

  • Understanding Your Audience

  • Analyzing Your Industry

The Client Survey

Clients usually have clear business objectives, but are notorious for not having clear site objectives. And why expect them to? They are neither designers nor web experts. By asking clients the right questions, you guide them into aligning their business objectives with the constantly changing, evolving, and demanding web.

The Client Survey (available for download from www.web-redesign.com) should be a straightforward distribute/collect/analyze process. Distribution of the survey is the very first thing to do with a redesign project — with any web development project. Encourage feedback within a short timeframe.

Recommend to the primary client contact that the Client Survey be distributed to all decision-makers. Many organizations have several key players, and feedback from varying sources usually gives a broader feel for any project. It is the client's responsibility to manage this distribution and then to process all answers into one response for the development team to use. If you head an internal team, it is probably your responsibility to manage the Client Survey's distribution, collection, and consolidation.

Customizing the Client Survey

The Client Survey should be customized to be client- or industry-specific. If you are in-house and you know the company and industry well, certain basic questions can be eliminated and more in-depth questions added. In fact, if you are the project manager on an internal team, you may be filling out the survey yourself.

All projects differ in size, scope, and focus. The Client Survey asks for in-depth, but basic, information necessary for general site redesign. Using the Client Survey as a base, determine whether any additional information is required. Don't overwhelm the client with dozens of extra questions, however. If the client's eyes glaze over, it's likely you won't get even the basic information you need.

The Client Survey as a Screening Tool

We've all had nightmare clients. Unreasonably demanding, capricious, unrealistic, cheap…. Use the Client Survey as an interviewing or screening tool for prospective clients as soon as a project presents itself. Completing and returning the survey makes clients accountable. The ones who take the time to answer your questions in a thoughtful, well-organized manner are likely to put proper thought into the creation of a site and have the makings of a good client. Clients who exhibit a number of red-flag-client characteristics (see chart below) are sometimes better left alone. If you have the luxury of choice, screen and choose projects and clients wisely.

A good client has some of the following attributes:
  • Is goal-oriented: focused on the big picture and how the site fits into the business as a whole

  • Answers the Client Survey in a clear and detailed manner

  • Supplies a Request for Proposal (RFP) or a clear outline of goals and scope

  • Understands the web environment and the development process

  • Gives final sign-off and approval in a timely manner

  • Is in agreement on deliverables, schedule, and budget

  • Is responsive to email and phone calls

  • Has a team-oriented approach

  • Gets you content on time and establishes a point-of-contact for content and/or a copywriter

  • Is part of the solution instead of the problem

This is not necessarily a nightmare client, but here are some things to watch out for:
  • Has a “get-it-up-quick” attitude with unrealistic schedule requests

  • Wants to shortcut the process and feels it is a waste of time to address audience needs or overall strategy.

  • Doesn't know what the content should be but wants it to “look cool”

  • Asks to create a demo site, says “the real one will come later”

  • Cannot give final approval or is not putting you in touch with the decision-makers

  • Doesn't have time to fill out the survey

  • Small budget, swift deadline

  • Unresponsive, cannot make decisions, does not email or call back in a timely manner

  • Indecisive, changes mind frequently, unable to articulate feedback

  • Wants to handle the creative and/or production aspects to “save money”

Unifying Goals

Do key players in the client's company have differing opinions and goals for the redesign? This is usually a red flag indicating that the client is experiencing an internal tug-of-war or is suffering from a significant level of disorganization. Depending upon the source of the dispute, it is possible that data collected from a round of usability tests on the outgoing site and/or on some competitor sites might help client personnel agree on common goals. Real users will clearly demonstrate what is working and what isn't. Understand, however, that user-based feedback, while incredibly insightful, is not a substitute for having clear business objectives. For more on usability testing, see Chapter 8: Testing for Usability. For more on competitive analyses, see Chapter 10: Analyzing Your Competition.

Client input is the foundation on which successful websites are built. This survey will help you articulate and identify the overall goals of your site redesign, including specific questions regarding message, audience, content, look and feel, and functionality. Each key decision-maker should fill out his or her own survey, answer each of the questions in a thorough but brief and clear manner, and add any additional notes or comments at the end of the survey. When finished, all compiled information should be emailed back to the project manager on the web development team.

This survey presented here is available for download on our book website www.web-redesign.com. We recommend expanding and customizing the survey to create your own version if you are working with specific project types, including branding and identity, back- to front-end integration, etc., or if you simply feel you need more information. If you are working in a niche market, you will undoubtedly have the opportunity to get significantly more specific in your questions.

The Client Survey

General Information

  1. What is the name of your company and your current (or intended) URL?

  2. Who are the primary contacts from your organization, and who has final approval on the project? Please list names, titles, email addresses, and phone numbers.

  3. What is your intended launch date for the new site? Are there any outside considerations that might affect the schedule (for example, PR launch, tradeshow, annual report)?

  4. Do you have a specific budget range already established for this project? Can this project be divided into phases to accommodate budget and timing constraints?

Current Site

  1. Do you feel your current site promotes a favorable user experience? Why or why not?

  2. What specific areas of your current site do you feel are successful? Why are they successful?

  3. What shortcomings exist with the current site, and what three things would you change on the site today if you could?

  4. Have you conducted usability tests or gathered visitor feedback for your current site? If so, how long ago? Please include any reports or findings.

  5. How important is it to maintain your current look and feel, logo, and branding?

Reasons for Redesign

  1. What are the main reasons you are redesigning your site (new business model, outdated site, expanded services, different audience)?

  2. What are your primary online business objectives with the site redesign? What are your secondary objectives? (Examples include increased sales, marketing/branding awareness, and fewer customer service calls.) Please discuss both long- and short-term goals.

  3. What is the main business problem you hope to solve with the site redesign? How will you measure the success of the solution?

  4. What existing strategy (both on- and offline) is in place to meet the new business objectives?

Audience/Desired Action

  1. Describe a typical site visitor. How often are they online, and what do they generally use the web for? Give basic demographics: age, occupation, income level, purchasing habits. (Use as much detail as possible in profiling your target user. Profile more than one type if appropriate.)

  2. What is the primary “action” the site visitor should take when coming to your site (make a purchase, become a member, search for information)?

  3. What are the key reasons why the target audience chooses your company's products and/or services (cost, service, value)?

  4. How many people (as far as you can tell) access your site on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis? How do you measure usage? Do you forecast usage to increase after the site launch and by how much?


  1. Use a few adjectives to describe how your site visitor should perceive the new site. (Examples include prestigious, friendly, corporate, fun, forward thinking, innovative, and cutting edge.) Is this different than the current image perception?

  2. How is your company currently perceived offline? Do you want to carry the same kind of message through your website?

  3. How does your company differentiate itself from competitors? Do you think your current audience differentiates you from your competition? Please list competitor URLs.

  4. List the URLs of any sites you find compelling. What specifically do you like about these sites?


  1. Will this site use existing content from the current site? If so, what is the source, who is responsible for approval, and has the content been audited? If not, will you be creating content in-house or using an outside provider?

  2. What is the basic structure of the content, and how is it organized? Is it a complete overhaul of the current site or an expansion?

  3. Describe visual elements or content that should be utilized from your current site or marketing materials (logo, color scheme, navigation, naming conventions, etc.)

  4. How will the content of this site (along with functionality and navigation) expand or differ from your current site? Do you have an existing sitemap for the outgoing site structure? Do you already have a sitemap or outline for the proposed redesign?


  1. What is your target platform and browser? Whom can we talk to in your organization to help respond to technical issues?

  2. Are there specific technologies (Flash, JavaScript, DHTML, etc.) that you would like to use in the site? If so, how will they enhance the user experience? Please describe in detail.

  3. Will you have database functionality (dynamic content generation, personalization/login)? Do you already have a database in place? Please describe it in detail, including specific information regarding existing programs and software.

  4. Will you have a need for secured transactions (e-commerce)? Do you already offer transactions online? Please describe in detail.

  5. Will you require other specific programming needs (such as personalization or search capability)? Please describe in detail.


  1. How do most people find out about your current website? What kind of triggers prompt a visit (referral links, incentives, search engine terms)? What methods of distributing the URL already exist within the company on and offline?

  2. Briefly, what are your short-term marketing plans (specifically, for the site redesign and the 6 to 12 months following launch)?

  3. Do you have an existing or planned marketing strategy in mind to promote this site redesign? If so, please describe.

  4. Do you intend to keep the site updated? If so, how often? Who is responsible for updating and providing content?

Additional Notes/Comments

Please take as much space as you need.








This survey is available for download at www.web-redesign.com

Analyzing the Client Survey

Once analyzed, the client-answered survey serves many purposes. You will refer to it regularly, especially to define site goals and to build schedules, the budget, and the all-important Communication Brief. It is, quite simply, the project's springboard.

Redesign vs. Refresh

Sometimes a site does not have to go through a complete top-to- bottom change. When analyzing scope, keep in mind that sometimes you may only need to focus on one area of your site at a time.

When you are finished analyzing the Client Survey, you should have clarity on several points, concepts, and ideas:

  • Site goals. What are the overall goals of the site redesign? What is the primary business problem that will be solved (for example, increase traffic, increase sales)? What other goals will be achieved (decrease calls to customer service, create a more user-centric site)?

  • Audience. What are your audience profiles and demographics? A sample demographic includes occupation, age, gender, online frequency, connection speed, and online habits (the sites users visit and why, how often they purchase online, how web savvy they are). It also includes their type of computer, their browser, and where they live. An audience profile takes that demographic and puts a real name and person to it.

  • Redesign issues. What are the redesign issues and goals? Have a clear understanding of old site vs. new site in terms of usability, tone, perception, and message. Someexamples of uses for this list: to help create the Communication Brief, to review at the kick-off meeting, and as a check-off list during subsequent phases of development.

  • Tone. What is the client's desired tone and audience perception? Sophisticated? Sleek? Fun? Credible? Dependable? Inexpensive? Have a clear interpretation of this; you need it to write the Communication Brief.

  • Scope. What are the project boundaries from all angles including budget, schedule, creative vision, technical needs (including the extent of engineering needs), and overall size (as clearly defined as possible with existing knowledge)? You cannot create a budget without a defined scope.

  • Maintenance. What is the client's vision for future site updates? Formulate a basic idea of how often and to what degree the site will be updated. The Maintenance Survey will provide additional data.

  • Contacts. Who is involved on the project? Start a contact list for both the client and development teams. This should contain all contact names, email addresses, telephone and fax numbers, and snail mail address (for deliveries and billing). Plan to keep this list updated and available on the password- protected client staging site (discussed later in this chapter).

If promoting the site is a specific redesign issue/goal, try some of these additional questions:If the redesign project will include a brand and identity overhaul, ask the client about the company's desired brand identity and how it differs from the current perception. Here are some sample questions:
  1. What methods of promoting your URL do you currently utilize outside your own organization both online and off? Do you currently have a way of monitoring and/or measuring traffic to your site? Is your site reliant on search results or keywords?

  2. How will your encourage site visitors to return to your site? What factors will motivate positive word-of-mouth solicitation?

  3. What are your short-, medium-, and long-term goals to increase traffic and awareness of your site?

  1. How would you describe your company's brand identity? What is the promise you make to your customers? How will this website help to fulfill this promise?

  2. What specifically do you want to communicate with your logo and brand? What kind of emotional response should the customer feel when they come to the website?

  3. Are you open to modifying or altering your current logo? How has the logo been modified over time?

  4. Who is responsible for maintaining consistency of the brand company-wide? Is this person also responsible for the website? Who has final approval over the logo and brand?

  5. If a new logo is required, please attach any examples (or URLs) of logos you feel effectively communicate that company's brand personality.

The Maintenance Survey

It may seem premature to address site maintenance this early in the redesign process, but it is far more streamlined in terms of effort and budget if the following is known early: the level of growth anticipated in the first 12 months following launch, and the post-launch plan, including who will be responsible for the updating (coding, project management, content management, and copywriting), and what skill level will be required for the actual coding. Please note that the Maintenance Survey (available for download from www.web-redesign.com) does not need to be filled out and analyzed prior to the project's kick-off, but it is an issue to consider before the site structure is set.

The client should answer the questions as thoroughly as possible, and the project manager should then use the results from this survey as a guide. By addressing these questions at the beginning of the project, you are able to plan in advance for maintenance needs once your redesign is live.

This survey is designed to help you determine how your site maintenance will be addressed after launch. Answer the following questions briefly and clearly and to the best of your knowledge. When you are finished, email all compiled information back to the project manager on the web development team.

The Maintenance Survey

General Information

  1. What areas of the redesigned site will be updated (for example, news, photos, horoscopes, products, reviews) and how often (for example, daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually)?

  2. Describe the maintenance team and individual responsibilities and time allocation, if known. (Full time? Part time? Split jobs?)

  3. How will the site be updated? Will you be inputting content manually into HTML or XML files? Will you be using a content management system (CMS) to dynamically update and deploy content (useful, for example, in the management of e-commerce inventory or text-publishing databases)? If using a content management system, please describe in detail.

  4. Who is responsible for maintaining the site from a technical standpoint, and what is this person's technical expertise level? What experience and capabilities does he or she have? Will the person require training?

  5. Who is responsible for making graphic changes on the site? What is his or her design expertise level?

Content Creation

  1. Who is responsible for creating the content for the site? Is this person able to dedicate part- or full-time resources to content creation?

  2. Who is responsible for approving look-and-feel changes (as the site expands) to ensure that the quality of the site is maintained?

  3. How often will new sections or areas be added to the site? Will they be based on the existing site's template or be independent sections?

Production Expertise

  1. What technological expertise is necessary to update the site (basic HTML knowledge, light scripting knowledge)?

  2. Is there an automated process of changing content on the home page (an automatic refresh of images or text each time a person comes to the site, a randomly generated quote, or a date change)?


  1. How will the user know the site has been updated? Will there be email announcements or specials tied into the site updates?

  2. Who is responsible for continued search engine and keyword updates and submissions? How often will keywords and META tags be revised?

This survey is available for download at www.web-redesign.com

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