Design Tip: Know Your Message
It is easy for web designers to just jump into a design without knowing the specific goals of the website. The "message", as i like to call it, is what the website is all about. It encompasses the goals, target audience and main objectives. Knowing this information before you start to design is critical. It will influence the graphics, layouts and calls to action. This is an important step that must not be skipped during the design process. If you don't take the time to discuss this with the client, you will miss the target 90% of the time.
One way to make sure you understand your clients message is through good old fashioned communication. Talk to the client, and find out their objectives. Find out what the company does, and what makes it unique. Discuss their customers and product. Even if your customer claims they don't know the specific message you can formulate one by simply listening.