What are techniques to elicit requirements from customers who don't understand their needs?


Question: How do you prevent a situation where you have to produce work-product work first and get client feedback before getting on the right track to meet their needs?

Are there techniques to help the client and us get a clearer sense of what the client wants?

Background on what we usually deal with:

We often develop (customize) CMS for clients. First and before any information structure is the "look and feel" of the website, the whole "identity", we could even say branding.

Beyond the fact that we are wire-framing the home page with tools like Balsamiq, and ask a lot of questions like:

  1. If your website would be a person, how would he/she look like, behave, attitude have...?
  2. What colours would you associate with your company / product / services?
  3. How is your competition, how does they website look like, what do you feel about them?
  4. What is your company mission statement, vision...?
  5. How your business model looks like... Who is your target group... What the seek?

All of this later on in our costumers case most of the time is out of "their true vision of product / company / service design".

What is more one of our customers when we started to ask questions answered: "I need artist that will with himself find proper colours and prepare design. If he is truly artist when he will understand what mission we provide, the design will manifest from inside of him..."

So we also arranged meeting with both client and graphic that would remove any "chain factor", however client using world like: unique, prestigious, life saving, and giving also marketing materials provided totally other vision that graphic understood.

Graphic prepared nice modern design, that showed joy of life, product and company as happy place... As opposite to client vision (that he claimed after he saw project) as this institution has a machine that treats people and rescue life it should be: grey, sad, with attitude like at the funeral / church...

I know that we can adapt "after" he will provide us feedback, however this is tremendous waste of time, money and very often indicates frustration.

Management Customers Project Management Design Web Design

asked Oct 18 '12 at 10:34
Daniel Skowro?Ski
18 points
  • Daniel, welcome to the site! Unfortunately, polling the community for a list of resources is not allowed on the Stack Exchange network. Please see http://meta.answers.onstartups.com/questions/880/requests-for-study-resources-are-not-constructive for more. I suggest editing your question to be about a specific problem you are having. If the revised version meets our guidelines we can take a look at reopening it. – Zuly Gonzalez 9 years ago
  • I would be glad if you provide some time to make changes to my question before closing... – Daniel Skowro?Ski 9 years ago
  • There is no good answer to this question. In fact, this is the main reason why IT people get such a bad name with business people, and vice versa. Experience mitigates the risks involved, but they can't be eliminated by the current way that these projects are performed. That is something my startup is working on - a new way of working which eliminates all these risks. – Steve Jones 9 years ago
  • The revised version of your question is much better. I have reopened the question for you. – Zuly Gonzalez 9 years ago
  • *"A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them."* Steve Jobs. – Frenchie 9 years ago

1 Answer


There is no easy answer to this. When you are working in this area, there is always a risk that a client will not like the design(s) developed. Here are some suggestions to mitigate risk and lost time:

  • Develop several low-fidelity concepts/alternatives so the client can see some ideas early that don't take you too long to develop. Build this into your proposal and don't present one overly elaborate and developed solution.
  • Know your designer's previous work well. Does he/she have a portfolio that the client likes? If you are outsourcing to a freelance designer, ask him/her for samples so you can show your client.
  • Build a long term relationship with your designer so you understand him/her, his/her philosophy and design style. Learn his/her language and use it when talking to clients.
  • Learn more about design yourself or have someone inhouse who really understands the basics and feels comfortable analyzing and speaking about designs.

Hope this helps.

answered Oct 18 '12 at 17:23
Miguel Buckenmeyer
482 points
  • As this is the only answer before closing the question I am accepting it. Regarding that it is all important, main problem is bound more with "techniques of gathering clear vision from customer mind" and more like "how to deal with mentioned in description type of customers". – Daniel Skowro?Ski 9 years ago

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