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If you want to provide high-quality service, don’t rely solely on the research and
brief your client gives you. Instead of being a passive receiver, make your own
critical judgment calls about your clients’ industry, market, business history, and
style preferences. We aren’t saying that you can’t get some of this information
from clients themselves, but you’ll need to supplement the information they give
you with some independent research of your own. “Get their research and vet it
yourselves,” advises James Bradley, president of The Chase Design Group.
Why? For one thing, it isn’t their job to educate you about their field,
market, or preferences. And for another, they may not be able to tell you what
you need to know. Some clients are articulate and self-aware, but some clients
aren’t. In any case, establishing your own knowledge base from other sources
will help you create better designs. That will make your clients look good to their
clients or bosses. And that will mean repeat business for you.
Some questions you’re likely to want to be answered through your own research are:
• What are the key moments in the client’s business history?
• What have been the client’s style preferences so far?
• What are the client’s branding opportunities?
• What is the significant demographics?
• What designs are the client’s competitor’s using?
• What are commonly used terms in the client’s industry (jargon, frames
of reference)?
• What is the culture of the company?
We have already discussed research through the Web, books, newspapers,
and journals in the section on “Building Up Your Research Skills. Here we want to focus on primary
research, which is the kind you collect
yourself through interviews, focus groups, surveys, questionnaires, and site
visits. With primary research, you are able to ask exactly the questions you want to be
so acquiring primary research skills and strategies is something you’ll
want to do.
You’ll optimize your results if you view primary research, such as interviews, in
three stages: preparing, conducting, and following up.
Prepare for Your Interviews
Since you will be taking up someone else’s valuable time, you should assume that
you won’t be able to “do it over” if you forgot to ask key questions or neglect to
receive full answers. That’s why it’s important for you to write down all of your
questions beforehand. Making time now saves you time later.
Draft your questions, jotting down everything you can think of, no matter
how lame or intrusive your questions sound. Keep in mind that you are just creating
a rough draft here. You can (and should) go back afterward to revise. If
you’re worried that some of your questions are too intrusive, write them out
anyway and run them by a colleague or friend to see if your doubts are valid.
You might be surprised to hear that what you considered to be prying is professionally
appropriate. Or you might get some help in reframing a question so that
you strike a more assured tone.
Once you’ve drafted your questions, rank them. Some are bound to be more
important than others. First, you’ll want to ask the most significant questions at
the beginning, in case your interview must be cut short. Second, by determining
in advance what questions must be answered, you can give them extra attention.
Highlight them in your notes, for instance. And rephrase them in a number of
ways, so that if they aren’t answered sufficiently the first time, you’ll be prepared
to ask again in a slightly different way. You may have noticed this when you’ve
been interviewed (or surveyed). It’s a tried and true strategy because interviews
rely on memories, and memory is selective. You can’t always count on the right
memory popping up, which is why you need to ask again. If you ask in exactly
the same way you asked before, you’re likely to elicit the same exact answer. A
different word choice could trigger a different part of the interviewee’s memory.
This could mean fuller answers to your most important questions.
While we’re talking about rephrasing your questions, you should also edit
your questions to invite an expanded response. Don’t ask questions that require
only a “yes” or “no” answer. Instead, ask open-ended questions that are broad
and unrestricted. (For example, instead of asking “Do you like this logo?”
which will only get a response of “yes” or “no,” ask a question like “What about
this logo do you like and not like?”)
When you call to set up your appointment, specify a timeframe (for
instance, “this should take no more than half an hour”). Offer to e-mail the questions
in advance. This is especially important if you have questions that need
some preparation or research on the interviewee’s part. Confirm your appointment
by phone or e-mail a few days before your meeting.