Successful discovery: how to kick off a design project that builds the right thing

We love the start of a new design project. We call it the Discovery phase because it’s the time for gathering information; what does our client want? What do their customers want? What do their staff want? What problem are we solving? The discovery phase is a fertile time for innovative design because all possibilities are open. But we have to be careful to nurture those creative first ideas at the same time as making sure we’re solving the right problems, making the right assumptions and staying within budget. We’ve developed a very structured approach to Discovery at Evolve. Our process is designed to figure out what you want and need from the project, and to test those assumptions. Here’s a guided tour of what to expect during the first 2-4 weeks with us.

Stakeholder engagement

We start with the stakeholders in this project. Who should we be talking to? Who’s involved and what do they want to happen? We split stakeholder engagement into six parts.

1. Kick-off workshop

This first get-together is a chance to sit down, introduce your team to our team, run through our approach and talk scheduling. You’ll typically come away with some handy meeting notes, agreed next steps and a schedule for future workshops and collaboration opportunities.

2. Stakeholder interviews

The next step is to get to know the individual decision makers on the project to understand what they expect so we can make sure those goals are met. We do this person to person through video conferencing, and then use those interviews to create a presentation of key themes.

3. Objective workshop

What does success look like? That’s the question we set out to answer in this workshop, building a shared understanding of the goals of the project and defining how we can measure success. We also prioritise goals based on user and business needs. In the end, everyone will have clear, defined objectives which we summarise in a presentation.

4. Proto-Persona workshop

A proto persona workshop builds a shared understanding of who the website is intended to serve and what their needs, goals, attitudes and behaviours are. We deliver proto-personas and empathy maps to inform project decisions.

5. User story workshop

The key question for any design project is, what should we build? You might think you already know the answer, but if your vision doesn’t answer a need or solve a real problem, it won’t get used. In the user story workshop, we define what features will be created, what the success criteria look like and how we’ll test whether those features are useful to customers. But just designing a bunch of individual features will lead to an incoherent user experience. The second objective of this workshop is to understand how each feature fits together by mapping the journey a user will go through and the story of their interaction with your organisation.

6. User engagement

Once we’ve got to know you and what you want from a project, it’s time to get to know your users in the real world. You might have clear ideas about what you think your users want, but we rigorously test those ideas to make sure we’re building the right thing before we commit to it.

7. User survey

In the early stages of a project, it’s important to take a step back and focus on a macro view of what we’re working on. Are our assumptions about users correct? A user survey can provide quantitative data to help us see user behaviour on a broad scale, finding out more about who customers are and seeing common themes emerge.

8. User interviews

In-depth user interviews help us explore customer problems in more detail, getting up close and personal with users from our persona groups and finding out what they think and need. We can uncover issues, confusions and frustrations as well as passions and preferences you might not have been aware of. This process can spark inspiration, helping us create the right solution and ensuring the project achieves your objectives If we’re redesigning an existing website, product or service these user interviews can also incorporate elements of user testing the existing solution.

We’ve evolved our discovery methodology over many projects, developing a suite of accompanying reports that give you the cold, hard research you need to convince others in your organisation. We deliver an executive summary, Net Promoter Score, UX scorecard, actionable recommendations and video highlight reels, all of which give you the evidence to show that you’re solving the right problem, for the right people, in the right way.