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Needs assessment: the most important process in web design

Every client who comes to you for a website knows why they want a website, even if they can't clearly articulate that "why." But understanding that why is the most important part of a website design. Why?

Strategic design decisions

You'll be in trouble from the very beginning as you sit down in front of your monitor and ask yourself "What should this design look like?" You won't have an answer, because you know that designs drive behavior, and you don't know what behavior to design for.

Knowing what your clients want from their websites makes strategic design decisions simple to answer, because the following question need only be answered: "How can I design this part so that users do more of what my client wants?"

Measurement

When it comes time to propose additions, changes, or complete redesigns, how will you justify your proposal? A simple "You need a fresh look" barely gets by anymore. Websites aren't novelty.

Knowing what your clients want out of their websites gives you something to measure, and more importantly, gives you something to justify continued work. For example, if you know a client wants leads generated from their website, you can measure how many leads are currently being generated, and offer design optimizations or an A/B test to increase lead generation rates. While your client may not want to pay for a redesign, they do want more leads and they're willing to pay for them.

Client satisfaction

Anytime I hear a client talking about a bad past experience, it feels like their previous consultant designed a brochure website and left them dry. When I hear happy businesses talking about their web consultants, they always focus on how "my website has improved my business." How can you show that you're improving your clients business if the website doesn't have a purpose?

Clients become happy clients when you prove to them that you have improved their business. It all begins with knowing what clients want out of their websites, designing for it, measuring it, and proving that you've given them more of what they wanted.