Discovery Phase of Web Design

What is the Discovery Phase?

The discovery phase of the web design process involves client interviews, research, exploration, and planning. This is typically the first stage, but certain aspects of it occur throughout the entire design process. The amount of time that you’re able to spend at this stage has a direct impact on the entire project. When pressed for time many designers overlook the discovery phase and shorten the amount of research and planning they do. This can result in not meeting the needs of the client, or often missing important details of the job. Just like when you’re working on a project in Maker Foundations or any other DHF Member course, the best thing you can do is to spend time planning and prototyping.

Connecting With the Client

Since the goal is to create a site that is driven by the client’s content, this phase is especially crucial since it’s when you’ll primarily connect with the client. During this time you’ll want to gather as much information and resources as possible. The more insight you get into the client’s needs, and the more content you receive from them during this stage, the more informed you’ll be as you design their site.

The next several lessons guide you through some of the documents that you’ll use to receive this information. Remember, you’re going to want to listen to the client so that you understand their vision and intent. Once you get some insight into what they’re looking for you can use that insight to research similar sites.

Think about how difficult it would be to design a site that meets the expectations and needs of a client without actually meeting with them and understanding their vision.

Identifying the Needs

One core goal of the discovery phase is to identify the actual needs of the client. It’s important to know what the needs are for the project, followed by the wants. This point is emphasized in an article by Justinmind, where they write:

“Needs can be characterized by what will make the website successful and wants are all the things that can be done with the website. Too many wants and your website could lose focus.” – Justinmind, in Essential design checklist for website prototypes

It’s important to identify these distinctions because you want to prioritize meeting needs, especially if crunched for time. Once you know what the needs are you’ll want to make design decisions that meet the client’s needs. For example, if your client needs there to be a prominently displayed contact form on their site you’ll have to make sure that you include that in your design.

It’s a good idea to create a list of these core needs. This way your team can identify and work toward a common goal. This is also a way to make sure that you’re not trying to include too many things in a site. Building on the example above, if you only have a certain amount of time left and you haven’t included a contact form on the site you’d want to assign a high priority to that. Including the contact form would have a higher priority than creating a transition animation. Once you finish these high priority items you can start branching out and including other things.

Benefits of the Discovery Phase

This article on UXPlanet by Justinmind called Why the discovery phase is the most important web design step. One of the core benefits is that the time spent in this phase will help you understand the actual needs of the client instead of designing without guidance.

A common pitfall is “solutionitis”, a concept developed by the Carnegie Foundation and explained in this write-up. Essentially, this is the tendency to immediately jump into creating a solution, or many solutions, without accurately understanding the problem. An example is when you try to design a site without actually understanding what the client needs, or what problem they want you to solve.

Once you have some insight into the client’s problems or needs, you can start researching and prototyping. In this context, you’ll be prototyping in your wireframes and content layout drafts. Ideally, you want to leave a client interview with a solid understanding of their needs and goals. From there you’d create wireframes that present their content in a clear and logical way. If the client provides some websites that they like, you should try to spend time researching those sites.