These ideas have served me very well.
When you encounter a partner or client who wants stellar website, but really doesn’t have good idea what it needs to look like, then I would put them through a series of meetings or tests to get them talking and thinking.
The 20 Second Site Check or Gut Check takes a lot of time to setup but its worth the effort. In short, grab 20 similar and awesome sites that are inline with what your new partner or client, then take screen shots of each homepage. Then sit them down with a score sheet (1-10, 1 worst, 10 best) and show then each site for 20 sec. Review the scores and find the top 5 and the worse 5, then talk about why they scored some sites higher than others. This will get someone who doesn’t know anything about web design, talking about web design. Don’t forget to talk about the worse 5 too! This will tell you what they don’t like.
Be sure to take lots of notes during this process! You will need them for the next step.
The Content Priority and Feasibility Plot will help you and your new partner or client narrow down what the top 5 most important parts of their site and what the least 5 important parts are. Of course, they will saw everything is important, but it’s your job to help them understand that you are going to focus on top 5, and make those thing great. If time is left over you will get to those other lesser important parts.
Again, be sure to take lots of notes!
At this point you should know what designs your partner or client likes, and you should know what it most important and least important to them. This is a tremendous amount data and should make it easy for you mock up a simple design for them. I always try to stay away from color palettes b/c it tends to distract them anyway from the content, which is the most important thing.
When it comes time to show your client the proposed design, be sure to recap the previous meetings and decisions that where made. Outline what was important to them and least important. Let them know that colors can take a back burner until we have everything in its place. Remind them, you don’t paint the walls in your house before your have studs up. Get the studs up first!
Lastly, be open for some feedback and changes. Even after they tell you want they wanted, they may have changed their minds. It happens. Remind them why you have made the choices you did and that it was based off of their feedback. I like having the mockup pulled up in Sketch or Photoshop during this process in case they want to change something quickly. They can see the changes in real time. When they see their requests on screen, they normally realize that there request is, maybe, not so practical.
Best of luck!