Initial Consultations

Aside from being excited to post the first message in a forum topic, I’m wondering how everyone conducts initial project consulations.

Specifically, what questions do you ask that help the customer make the Gestalt Switch and suspend their mental models on what the product should be?

What background questions do you ask? Does anyone use a template when consulting with customers or just ask questions as you think of them?

As an example, this is a general list I have from one project:

What does the product do?
Who is the end customer?
Where do the customers live?
When is the unit used?
Where is the unit used?
How often is the product used?
Where is the product located?
What are the control inputs?
What are the control feedbacks?

Who is the competition?
What are the special features / selling points of this product?
Where/How is the product sold?
What products would be useful to compare this product to?
What is the life span of this product?

Drop test requirement?
IP Rating?
Chemical Resistance?
UV stability?
Temperature Range?

What are the customers cost goals?
When is the customers release date goal?
What are the projected Quantities (long term, short term)?
Where will the product be manufactured?
Are the customer’s electronics already designed?

Your questions are an excellent way to cover all bases and look at design from a wholistic 360 degree view. Similiar and expanded work is contained in the “House of Quality” studies from the late 80’s and the QFD, (quality Functional deployment) techniques of the nineties…Designers do need to be careful about the how and when to ask the questions. A list can sometime suggest that the process you are using formulaic and cookie cutter. That said I think there are many more plusses than minuses to the approach.


A past employer of mine had one such cookie cutter questionnaire that was sent to all potential clients prior to supplying a proposal. It backfired more often than not based on the fact that it overwhelmed the prospects, and made think that we did not know what we were doing.

Since then I have found that it is more productive to engage the clients in conversation and guide the clients to volunteering the information without being asked the questions directly. It take practice but it works, and I have even had prospects say what other firms had quoted and why they were not moving forward with that firm or individual.

Its all about making the prospect/client feel comfortable while showing that you know your business. AND NEVER CHARGE FOR AN INITIAL MEETING.

After the initial meeting, If the project is extensive, and creating the path to get to the end requires a great deal of work, (to outline and structure), it can become the first phase of an engagement. This would become something that can be priced. (A check list technique as descibed above is very hepful). These efforts are often called Phase 0. In a very large program a Phase 0 can require quite a lot of work and the net result can provide real value in the strategy and process that it lays out.


Thank you for pointing out the slight flaw in my earlier comment. I was stuckin the mode of thinking like a freelancer for the initial consultation for a skinning job.

What I was actually thinking at the time was I have experianced people in the Design world who would not even meet with potential clients to discuss their design needs unless they were being paid for the hour of time. One insisted on $1000 just to come in an share the capabilities and services his firm could offer, and an additional $500 per phase to develope a proposal for a specific program. The firm quickly sank!

I have seen sucess with the Phase 0 approach, when looking at a program that will take 6+ months to complete. Especially when it involves coordinating research, and engineering efforts in multiple countries.

ML, yes it sounds as if the firm you profiled had a case of the “big pants”. Some design stars can comand thos kind of accomedations if their reputatuions are big enough. Not usually firms. By the way the opposite, spec work, doing work aon the chance of recieving future woerk, is an equally flawed proposition. the fee that design firms command can not justify this approach as they do when advertising firms chase 20 million dollar accounts.


By the way the opposite, spec work, doing work aon the chance of recieving future woerk, is an equally flawed proposition. the fee that design firms command can not justify this approach as they do when advertising firms chase 20 million dollar accounts.

HAs anyone had any luck doing this? I remember bieng asked to do this from time to time, but success stories are not bubbling to the top… any experiences?

I worked at a firm where we did work on spec twice, with different companies, and BOTH times we got burned. I think it’s a horrible practice that devalues what we do. (Or any industry for that matter) The idea that someone could get quality work with no guarantee of compensation is ridiculous. Companies love to bait firms into this practice with the “opportunity” to work with them.

I’ll never be a proponent of it, regardless of the situation.

I remember hearing that spec work is pretty standard in the exhibit design industry. A bunch of firms will propose designs and only one will get the job…and the compensation for their time and effort.

A technique that I learned, from a friend of mine that is an architect, is to not charge for your initial consultation, but at the same time require that it take place in your office.

It gives the client the opportunity to see where you work, minimizes the lost time (and expense) of traveling, and essentially ‘qualifies’ your client’s intention of really wanting to work with you.

Is it presumptuous? That would depend on whether your prospective client contacts you … or the other way around; and of course on your attitude when you make the pitch.

Spec work is a gamble but in our industry (design)it is more than that. Since fees are so low relative to say…advertising, the ROI ( return on Investment) does not exist . So,… engaging in spec work creates an artificial bubble of free work for clients demand this. For the design industry it creates a downhill slide with no good end result. Unless of course, design fees increase by a factor of 20 or 40 and the risk aproaches something equal to the reward.


Doing spec work for clients is comparable to buying merchandise from telemarketers. Telemarketers wouldn’t call you at home if some idiots didn’t respond favorably. Everytime a designer agrees to do spec work, it hurts EVERYBODY in the design community.