If you are searching to create a superb online brand presence, you probably have already seen a few proposed design project plans, and they mostly share the same anatomy. Designing, programming, testing stages all make sense... but at the very beginning there's a block called the "discovery phase". A rather heavyweight block – for example, in dops.digital projects it takes from 1 to 3 weeks – a hell of a time resource when the deadlines are tight (which they are always).
Is that part really necessary? What kind of value the discovery phase brings, anyway?
We believe the discovery phase is the key to success for the whole project. In fact, we don't ever work without it, no matter how small the project is. Let us show you a dozen benefits that we get directly from investing time into the project discovery phase.
A client of ours has said once: "I want them to do their job absolutely creative. Not being distracted with too many industry biases and technicalities." The truth is, designers need to have a substantial amount of context for creativity.
We build this context by analyzing technicalities, doing market research, and many more. The project manager starts the discovery phase by gathering stakeholder requirements and business nuances, collecting the answers on the company origins, product, and goals.
We often practice interviewing the customer team to check off any assumptions or biases that the design team might have around the industry or the brand image (for example, building machinery has to be yellow, banking services are presented in a super-serious way, and so on).
Cooking the same ingredients would result in mostly similar meals. "Cooking" a unique website requires more resources and an unexpected angle. The discovery phase allows the design chefs to invest some time into "shopping" for the extra assets you didn't even know you had.
You think you know what the world needs to know about your business. You might even have the guidelines, user personas, mission, vision, references to show (which really speeds up the project a lot, by the way). But caught up in the daily work routine you are less likely to formulate what makes your brand crucial. We are proud to report that more than a few of our customers have been surprised how the discovery phase findings hit the bull's eye explaining the mission and lifestyle of their company.
The discovery phase allows going beyond the present state of the product and the existing audience. For us, it's the opportunity to analyze what output format would really benefit a client the most – a rebranding, a whole new digital experience, or maybe a functional web platform.
Translating to human language: many managers willing to get a second wind into the company brand sail would start looking to create a more appealing website. But depending on the challenge they are facing it could be a visual revamp, interactive landing, or an e-commerce app that would actually do the job better.
That's why we analyze the customer goal and user acquisition channels to come up with the fitting output format at the very beginning. We deliver the solution that will make client's business thrive in the long run, even if it differs from the initial request.
At dops.digital our discovery phase is constructed around a single ambition: building a premium presentation for a customer's business. So we don't spend time on purely theoretical research.
All the info we collect, the analysis we conduct, the comparison charts we create have to contribute to one task – how to make our customer look superior and remarkable. Having a goal in mind keeps the discovery phase highly practical.
Let's imagine the project that started straight into the design phase. Upon receiving content and corporate branding guidelines the brilliant creative team jumps into designing the visuals, wireframing the layouts, or coding. They come up with the pages to show, only to discover that the designs don't solve the problem, and every round of feedback sets them back, ruins the timeline, depletes the project budget. Why? Because you have to get familiar with the challenge first to find a good solution.
How many requirements for a design project you have as a customer? Do you think that in a week or so a few more elements of importance can come up to mind?
During the discovery phase a Project manager charts the fundamental elements that are bound to be in the project (be it a certain color, slogan, or technical specs) and builds a purposeful list of requirements. Purposeful – because it has to be prioritized around the goal (see #4.)
As the first part of the design process, discovery phase is the perfect time to organize neat and readable documentation of project structure, production plan, content, assets, and references in Confluence. Steering the rest of the process is really enjoyable with the accurate and comprehensive data system in place.
Certainly, your company is about users. That means describing it just with the mission and values you give is not enough: you also have to take user behaviors into account.
With tools like Google Analytics our BA investigates the technicalities: where and when do visitors come from, what devices they mostly use, what percentage converts into buyers, and what this last group has in common. These are the important things to consider in the future design.
Closely connected to the previous item, the discovery research helps to optimize the suggested sitemap structure. The gaps in the current brand online presence reflect in a sitemap (a scheme of all the pages on a website and connections between them).
There are also issues that should be optimized on a granular level. Is the domain authority lower than 30? Let's plan to redesign the content and make it concise according to the SEO standards. Are the viewers coming to the website in dozens, but leave in the first few seconds? We need to use the design hacks that kill the bounce rate (no, it's not an animal. Read more here).
Perhaps you know your competition and market share in numbers or implicitly, from the experience. But how much time can you afford to spend explaining the nuances?
We start the discovery phase by asking the customer team to share their positioning, examples of "favorite competitors" and the general state of the industry. Then a dedicated business analytic explores the given market, looks for references, how other brands are positioned, and what makes them memorable.
During the discovery, the BA maps the target audience for the new design or rebranding, often creating new user personas from the ground up. It could be the audience you have not targeted yet, but would like to win – with the updated brand look.
One might ask, isn't that the Marketing VP task? Why the creative team would even bother doing that? Yes, defining the target audience does contribute to the marketing part. But the designers have to focus implicitly on the user demographics and characteristics as well, to build a visual experience that speaks directly to the group you wont to get in touch with.
The final part of the discovery phase belongs to the UX designer, who interprets the user interactions with the brand in the wireframes – the blueprints of the future interface. That visualizing part has to be done before the actual drawing and programming starts. No matter how exquisite will be the future designs, only the focus on buyer-centered experience pays off.
The web design discovery phase is supposed to evolve a deep understanding of customer's business challenges and ambitions. Which in turn helps the creative team to make better, business-focused, and user-centered design decisions.
For us, at dops.digital, those 12 benefits above bring several tangible assets to the table:
Sounds tasty? Check out the great designs those benefits helped us to create at dops.digital/works!