Why Your Project Needs a Discovery Phase
When we begin a project, it is crucial we invest time into understanding the problems at hand -- beyond what is laid out in an RFP or discussed in initial conversations. It may not take much to generally understand what the solution should be, but crucial to a project’s success is how we get there. We need to devote time to understanding how the current technology is used, what pain points are faced when interacting with the product, and how to best position the new product for success.
A discovery phase can take many forms, but can be understood in two parts: evaluation and recommendations. First, apart from getting to know our client partners and the project at hand, we spend time evaluating possible approaches. This includes both design and development research and is awash with collaborative conversations between both teams. Lastly, we decide on a recommended approach together and review the respective timelines and budgets associated. At the end of the discovery phase, we have a shared understanding of the project with expectations in place around scope, cost, and time.
It’s crucial we understand your team, your organization, and your goals. We want to know as much as we can to be the best possible partners, it’s why we ask A LOT of questions early, it’s by design. Whether we work together for two months or two years, we care about the success of your project as if it were our own. We have also found that building rapport and trust upfront fuels a more successful outcome.
As we get to know you better, we spend time diving into your project to lay out a few paths forward. This is the most fluid portion of the discovery phase and is different for every project. We generally have a few roles take part in this phase to fully grasp the needs of the project: strategists, UX/UI designers, and developers. Our Strategists and UX Designers generally start by looking at data. For a site update, they might dive into website analytics, or they might even recommend user testing. If it’s a brand new project, they might research potential competitors or industry best-in-class examples. Further along, they might also begin to map out the information architecture. Our design team can begin to explore possible aesthetic designs using your website's current style, or they can begin anew with a complete website refresh. It comes down to the balance of scope, cost, and time. And in this phase, our developers will begin to look at your current platform to make recommendations on how best to proceed from a technical perspective. We may find efficiencies in third-party software integrations or it may make sense to explore completely new platforms.
As mentioned above, our team does a lot of digging in the Discovery Phase and may request access to data or they might recommend some initial user tests. This is to ensure that our decisions are backed by user behaviors and not assumptions or opinions. Users don’t always know what they need, but they’ll happily voice what they want. Below are a handful of tools and activities that our team uses to uncover this information:
A casual conversation where we ask you, the experts, about your business and the problem you are trying to solve. This is more of a continuous conversation throughout the Discovery period and not just a single meeting.
Heuristic is a fancy word for a rule or expectation. As the web has evolved, people have come to expect certain things to behave in certain ways and we check your website to make sure your website meets these now standardized expectations. Does a button look and act like a button? Do all of your buttons look the same? (hint: they should) This exercise focuses on the small things that help a customer understand how to use and navigate your website.
A sitemap is just like a map of a city. It shows us how all of your pages are connected to each other. We look it over to make sure that all of the interconnecting roads make sense. We don’t want anyone to get lost while browsing your site.
Visual impairments. Physical impairments. There is a lot that can deter a user from accessing your website. We’ll make sure that text is big enough and dark enough to read, that your website can be read by a screen reader, and that alternate navigation methods can be used (i.e. a keyboard). This gives everyone access to your website and increases your customer base.
User Flow/Journey Mapping
We’ll create a visualization of the journey your users take when they access your website and discuss it. Do we notice any hangups? Is there a step that could be skipped or improved upon? Is there a better method entirely? Once we understand the journey, we can design around that journey.
If available, page views and navigational patterns can tell us a lot about how users are actually using the site through the number of interactions. We comb through the data and create a hypothesis for how we can best serve your customers' needs using this data.
If available, this type of data shows us where customers spend their time on specific pages and/or the types of information that they gravitate towards. This can help us figure out if placement or design needs to change so the customer can find what they need.
User testing can be used to uncover problems in current designs, customer journeys, and navigation. It can also help validate a new design before spending the time developing it which cuts down on end costs. User testing is one of the most effective ways to diagnose a problem, and one of the best ways to find a solution to that problem.
While a project discovery phase is a small, up-front investment, the cost and timeline associated with the larger project are some of the most important details to establish. If you have a budgetary constraint, our teams will work to prescribe a few approaches to fit within that budget. If there’s a deadline set in stone, we may define iterations of the project so the most important features are included at launch. Anything secondary, we can ensure we approach shortly after. Overall, failing to plan is planning for failure.
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