If you are a designer, like it or not, the power is in your hands: you are most definitely involved early in the process, so if you aren't put into contact with all of the following people, you should definitely ask at least for a short meeting with them. Of course, this means a lot more work for you, but trust me, it is easier to take things into consideration from the start than to have to change your design later. The following are the people you should talk to before starting the design and who you should ask for feedback after you have a wireframe and/or actual design in place (not necessarily in this order):
1. Business Owner
Of course, if we're talking about a big site it doesn't necessary has to be the business owner/CEO, it has to be someone who can tell you the goals of the site (both micro- and macro-goals) and what tactics that are being used by sales to close leads. If the company you're designing for is small, the business owner is the best person who can tell you such aspects of the business.
Limitations: Do note that usually business owners will agree to any design you propose, as they trust you as being the expert. Which you are, but part of being the expert is to know the people who can give you a better insight into what the website needs to do and how it should do it.
2. Customer Support Representative
It is crucial to talk to a Customer Support Representative, as they can give you detailed information on customers' behavior, their preferences, the problems they faced with the old site and so on.
Limitations: Customer Support Representatives usually don't know what they should tell you, being in contact with customers each day they probably have information which they take for granted or about which they assume that it is only logical and that you probably already know. Thus, make sure you are prepared with a set of questions when you first talk to them.
3. UX expert
A UX expert is especially helpful when you already have a wireframe in place, to point out possible usability issues. Of course, after years of experience you will probably have a handle on usability and other UX aspects.
Limitations: UX experts are usually pretty hard to come by, so if you don't have a proper budget a UX expert's opinion will probably be the first thing that you will consider as being redundant. If this is the case, at least take Nielsen's Ten Heuristics into consideration.
4. Online Marketing Specialist
Marketing will be an essential part of any website, that is why it is important to consider it in the design from the start. A specialist can help with call-to-actions (which will help achieve the goals set out by the business owner) and information design (which is highly important for SEO).
Limitations: Marketing is pretty complex on its own, so you might find yourself that the online marketing specialist will come up with ideas along the way. Although, continuous feedback and improvements are necessary, you have to know where to draw the line. Thus, everything that is needed should be put down in writing, so that when new ideas come up you will be more or less covered.
5. Developer and Development Project Manager
Talking to a developer and to the development project manager is highly important, as they know from the start how the website will be programmed and the technical limitations of a particular CMS and so on.
Limitations: Sometimes what makes sense from a UX, design and marketing point of view, might be hard to implement from a development perspective, but you should try to do your best and together to come up with the best solution possible. If needed, you should also discuss the issues and limitations with the client/business owner.
Clients are very important, the most important actually. But it is last on my list as unfortunately usually the budget allocated won't cover a user quantitative and/or qualitative research as well.
Limitations: Setting up user research is not only costly, but a decent amount of other resources is necessary as well (expertise, time and so on). In any case it is your obligation to ask the business owner/client if talking to a real user would be possible. If not, you should at least base your design on the feedback of a customer support representative.
Who else do you think should be included in the design process? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!