Sofia Perez, WriterThe biggest mistake that people make when it comes to creating and designing publications—be it a webpage, video, or printed brochure—is that they haven’t asked the right questions. As a food writer, I liken it to putting on an apron, stepping into the kitchen and turning on the oven before you’ve even checked to see whether or not you have all the necessary tools and ingredients. Sure, you might get lucky, but more than likely you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Before you march over to your copywriter and creative team and ask them to produce a full-color brochure filled with only haiku, images of mimes, and a center spread that features a pop-up boat diorama playing the theme song from Gilligan’s Island, there are a few questions you should ask.

Who Is My Audience?

If you were having a dinner party for vegetarians, would you plan to serve burgers and steaks? Not if you ever wanted those people to speak to you again. Well, the same basic principle applies here. Your first question should always be, “Who is my audience?” Who are you trying to reach with this new tool? The answer will have a huge impact on the form and content of whatever it is you end up creating. A webpage aimed at B2B clients will contain markedly different language than one that was designed for consumers. You don’t want your peers to think that you’re talking down to them or seem unqualified because you haven’t displayed your understanding of the subject matter, nor do you want the general public to lose interest because you’ve bombarded them with too much insider jargon.

What Do I Want Them to Do?

No matter what kind of material you’re creating, you have a goal in mind. (If not, step away from the design table right now, and figure out your goal first.) Are you trying to drive ticket sales to your theatre company’s latest play? Do you want to let potential retailers know that your product exists and convince them that they’d be fools for not featuring it prominently on their shelves? Is your fundraising team trying to generate money to help save a colony of endangered penguins? Whatever your ultimate aim, it must guide the process of developing new materials.

What Is The Most Effective Way to Disseminate My Message?

The way you spread your message is just as important as the message itself. If you’re trying to reach potential clients at a huge tradeshow, you probably want to avoid handing out a five-pound tome on your company’s origin story that the recipient will then have to lug around the exhibition hall for the rest of the afternoon (or, more likely, drop in the nearest garbage can). Instead, the solution might be to design a humorous or attractive postcard that folks can hang on their cubicle walls so that your contact information is front and center when the time comes for them to require your services.

While it’s great to go into this process with specific ideas about the tools you want to create, consider all of the options first before you spend any significant amount of time or energy on content and form. Asking the right questions now will get you the best responses later.