10 Tips for a Successful Web Design Discovery Phase

Through the many web design projects we’ve done, we have learned that achieving the outcome we want, starts with a successful and comprehensive discovery phase. A discovery phase that provides our client and our team with the information necessary to make decisions that fully consider the business objectives, competitive advantages, users’ desires, and technical requirements.

When you’re thinking about going on a vacation, you don’t just close your eyes, drop your finger randomly on a world map, and jet off to this unknown paradise… You take time to consider your needs, your desires, the opportunities and the downfalls of that vacation spot. You spend hours on your computer and phone comparing different options to craft an unforgettable vacation. The same goes for any web design project…

You can’t just mix a bunch of random ingredients together, throw it at the wall (web) and expect it to make something delicious (succeed). To set your website up to win, you need to do some work. The discovery phase allows you to understand the purpose of the website, how it will help not only your business but your users as well. You need to align your decisions and goals with the business and user goals.

The discovery phase of a web design project helps to:

  1. Prevent overspend or scope creep later in the design stage.
  2. Illuminate design challenges.
  3. Inform the design process.
  4. Lay the foundation for a successful user experience.
  5. Clarify the overall company vision/strategy and how the web design project fits into that.

Below you’ll find 10 of our best tips for making the discovery phase on your next project a success.

1. Understand the company vision and strategy

Understanding the overall strategy and vision gives more clarity to how the website fits in and it’s role in driving the company’s strategy and vision. Once the strategy is clear, it’s used to help identify the objectives and outline the Key Performance Metrics (KPMs) that will help visualize the ultimate goals for the website. (Some examples of KPMs are the number of conversions, number of contact form submissions, etc. When these KPMs are clearly defined, it helps the team make decisions throughout the entire project and ensures the focus doesn’t deviate from these goals. Think of the KPMs as your north star.

2. Do Quick Secondary Research

This is crucial to understand the landscape you are working in and enables the team and stakeholders to have useful and productive conversations.

This may include:

  1. Information on users and their goals.
  2. Existing business processes.
  3. Technology supporting the business processes.
  4. Analytics data such as, pages most visited, etc.
  5. Talking to customer-facing employees.

3. Understand The User’s Journey

It’s important to know more than just a user’s demographics. You need to understand their journey through their interaction with your company/team/product or service. Think about the context of a given scenario where the user will interact with your website and/or your company. It’s this type of information that will guide the decisions you make about content, calls-to-action, web design and so much more.

What makes a user journey useful and effective in web design?

  • Understand the interrelations between different user journey paths.
  • Understand how different paths align with the broader objectives of the product/service.
  • Understand the pain points of your users and prioritize solutions.

Note: This may require multiple journey maps if you have multiple target markets. Also, it’s highly unlikely that you have just one type of user, so make sure you account for the major user types that you are servicing or targeting. Another great way to tackle this, is to focus the journey maps around user goals and phases of interactivity with your company:

  1. Awareness
  2. Engagement
  3. Discovery
  4. Purchase
  5. Retention

4. Have the right people in the room

The information you get out of a workshop or an exercise is only as good as the people you have involved…so make sure you have the correct people in the room. If you’re running a user journey mapping session, make sure you include those who interact with the user’s journey and different touch-points. For stakeholder interviews include subject matter experts (SMEs) and those with knowledge of the user’s needs and desires.

5. Keep communication channels open & active

This not only keeps that collaborative team spirit alive, but it opens your team up for sharing and building off of one another. This is exactly what you want during the discovery phase. You are trying to uncover as much as you can by creating ideas and making decisions based on your findings.

6. Get buy-in from all stakeholders

Including key stakeholders in the discovery phase, is not only good for making them happily informed, but also for using their subject matter knowledge to inform decisions. Getting stakeholders involved in the discovery phase is crucial for ensuring a smooth sign off when it comes time for final approval by ensuring their voices have been heard and their goals have been met.

7. Have diverse perspectives

Building off of tip number 4, you not only want the right people in the room but you want people from different functions and backgrounds. Here at Solid Digital, we are firm believers in having the appropriate cross-functional teams working toward a shared goal for the project. However, it is imperative that you have conversations that are constructive and collaborative…fostering a bunch of great yet feasible ideas.

8. Don’t be afraid to challenge assumptions

The discovery phase is the perfect time to question assumptions and ask why. It’s early in the project and everyone is trying to get on the same page and equip themselves to make informed decisions. If you feel something doesn’t address a business or user need, question it. If something is being done because that’s the way it’s always been done…question it. Maybe there is a better way to do it…a way that addresses the business and user needs better.

9. Keep your team humble

During projects, especially during the discovery phase when you’re learning lots of new information, it’s important to put your ego aside and be open. There will be lots of discussion and this isn’t the time for emotion or bias to get in the way of making the right decisions. Lastly, remember, at the end of the day, you’re all there for the same reason…to create a winning website that will help your business and your users.

10. Have someone accountable for managing each action item

Clearly defining a single owner responsible for each action item as you move through the discovery phase will allow your team to keep moving forward. Side note, this technique is useful for the entire project. When there are multiple people involved in getting things done, when no one is clearly assigned to specific items, it’s easy for everyone to think someone else will do it.

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