At the start of almost all design jobs, a creative kick-off meeting with the potential client or business owner takes place, where the designer should aim to a) gather information, b) distill this information, so that c) the designer can walk away and synthesise an effective design solution for that problem. For that to happen effectively, there are three key tasks to do, before the designer should complete a pitch for the work. They are as follows:
1. Define the goal
2. Diagnose the problem
3. Narrow the design exploration (the 'creative' stuff)
By doing these three things, it allows the pitch for the new work to be focused, and little to no time is spent chasing irrelevant ideas. It's highly beneficial for both the client and the designer - a win/win scenario that often starts the foundation for a healthy, successful relationship where both parties are clear about what to expect from the start. Here are the three step in more detail:
Step 1 / Define the goal
What is the project, and what does it need to do? Keep it focused, and to one sentence. (E.g. This website will inform customers about our events and allow them to book and take action with these events). Now we've got our goal in place, what is getting in the way of that?
Step 2 / Diagnose the problem
What is the challenge I need to solve, and what is getting the way from the client accomplishing their goals? Here is what we need to know to diagnose the design problem: The who, the what and the how. 
Who: Who is the target audience (a.k.a. the user), why is it important to them? And why do they even care? Try to organise the top 3 user profiles (or customer personas), and identify the most important one to work off.
What: What is the message? What does this project need to communicate? What is the key takeaway message, and how should the audience feel after digesting this message? Here we need to prioritise the message, and define the hierarchy with them. By doing that you'll show value as a partner, because you're using your core design skills to provide clarity and to organise their thoughts.
How: Now that you have a clear message... Where and how will it be shown? In what context? What part of the sales cycle will the viewer be in? (Prospect, connect, research, present, close). Depending on the context, the viewer will have a different state of mind and attention span. Depending on the stage of the sales cycle, they'll have different needs and intentions (early in the process, then awareness. Late in the process, then they're ready to buy).
Now that we have our goal defined, and our problem diagnosed, there are still too many possibilities of what this could be...
Step 3 / Define the creative parameters (Narrow down the design exploration)
Establish your criteria and define your sandbox. A few key questions can help with this:
What are your creative parameters? I.e. what does this potential result look like to you? Look out for "coded language", which are words such with a lot of room for subjective interpretation (epic, elegant, stunning, powerful etc.) - you need to ask what does 'epic' look like to you? See the article How to Achieve Design Clarity: Listen on Medium.
How will you make your decision on who to work with? The client will tell the most important thing they need to see or hear to make their decision. Is it money? Is it results? It is convenience - are you going to make this process painless for the client? Is it rapport - are they looking for the people they get along with best?
Concluding thoughts
This is an evolving process that changes from project to project. From my experience, it offers a great framework that may vary a little with each client, but ultimately helps tease out the information that is needed to successfully complete a successful design project.

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