More Than Pixels: Selling Design Discovery

More Than Pixels: Selling Design Discovery

More Than Pixels: Selling Design Discovery

Kyle Cassidy

2018-05-17T14:10:03+02:00
2018-06-05T11:39:14+00:00

As designers, we know that research should play a pivotal role in any design process. Sadly, however, there are still a lot of organizations that do not see the value of research and would rather jump straight into the visual design stage of the design process.

The excuses given here tend to be:

“We already know what our customers want.”

“We don’t have the time/budget/people.”

“We’ll figure out the flaws in BETA.”

As designers, it is important that we are equipped to be able to have conversations with senior stakeholders to be able to sell and justify the importance of the so-called “Design Discovery” within the design process.

In this article, I’ll demystify what is meant by the term “Design Discovery” to help you better establish the importance of research within the creative process. I’ll also be giving advice on how to handle common pushbacks, along with providing various hints and tips on how to select the best research methods when undertaking user research.

My hope is that by reading this article, you will become comfortable with being able to sell “Design Discovery” as part of the creative process. You will know how to build a “Discovery Plan” of activities that answers all the questions you and your client need to initiate the design process with a clear purpose and direction.

Design With A Purpose

Digital design is not just about opening up Photoshop or Sketch and adding colors, shapes, textures, and animation to make a beautiful looking website or app.

As designers, before putting any pixels on canvas, we should have a solid understanding of:

  1. Who are the users we are designing for?
  2. What are the key tasks those users want to accomplish?

Ask yourself, is the purpose of what you are producing? Is it to help users:

  • Conduct research,
  • Find information,
  • Save time,
  • Track fitness,
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle,
  • Feel safe,
  • Organize schedules,
  • Source goods,
  • Purchase products,
  • Gather ideas,
  • Manage finances,
  • Communicate,
  • Or something entirely different?

Understanding the answers to these questions should inform your design decisions. But before we design, we need to do some research.

Discovery Phase

Any design process worth its salt should start with a period of research, which (in agency terms) is often referred to as a “Discovery Phase”. The time and budget designers can allocate to a Discovery phase is determined by many factors such as the amount of the client’s existing project research and documentation as well as the client’s budget. Not to mention your own personal context, which we will come to later.

Business And User Goals

In a Discovery phase, we should ensure adequate time is dedicated to exploring both business and user goals.

Yes, we design experiences for users, but ultimately we produce our designs for clients (be that internal or external), too. Clients are the gatekeepers to what we design. They have the ultimate say over the project and they are the ones that hold the purse strings. Clients will have their own goals they want to achieve from a project and these do not always align with the users’ goals.

In order to ensure what we design throughout our design process hits the sweet spot, we need to make sure that we are spending time exploring both the business and user goals for the project (in the Research/Discovery phase).


business and user goals
Your Discovery phase should explore both user and business goals. (Large preview)

Uncovering Business Goals

Typically, the quickest way to establish the business goals for a project is to host a stakeholder workshop with key project stakeholders. Your aim should be to get as many representatives from across different business functions as possible into one room to discuss the vision for the project (Marketing, Finance, Digital, Customer Services, and Sales).

Tip: Large organizations often tend to operate in organizational silos. This allows teams to focus on their core function such as marketing, customer care, etc. It allows staff to be effective without being distracted by activities where they have no knowledge and little or no skills. However, it often becomes a problem when the teams don’t have a singular vision/mission from leadership, and they begin to see their area as the driving force behind the company’s success. Often in these situations, cross-departmental communication can be poor to non-existent. By bringing different members from across the organization together in one room, you get to the source of the truth quicker and can link together internal business processes and ways of working.

The core purpose of the stakeholder workshop should be:

  1. To uncover the Current State (explore what exists today in terms of people, processes, systems, and tools);
  2. To define the Desired Future State (understand where the client wants to get to, i.e. their understandig of what the ideal state should look like);
  3. To align all stakeholders on the Vision for the project.

project vision
Use workshops to align stakeholders around the vision and define the Desired Future State. (Large preview)

There are a series of activities that you can employ within your stakeholder workshop. I tend to typically build a full workshop day (7-8 hours) around 4-5 activities allowing 45mins uptil 1 hour for lunch and two 15-min coffee breaks between exercises. Any more that than, and I find energy levels start to dwindle.

I will vary the workshop activities I do around the nature of the project. However, each workshop I lead tends to include the following three core activities:

ActivityPurpose
Business Model CanvasTo explore the organizations business model and discuss where this project fits this model.
Measurement PlanDefine what are the most important business metrics the business wants to be able to measure and report on.
Proto Personas and User StoriesExplore who the business feels their users are and what are the key user stories we need to deliver against.

Tip: If you’re new to delivering client workshops, I’ve added a list of recommended reading to the references section at the bottom of this article which will give you useful ideas on workshop activities, materials, and group sizes.

Following the workshop, you’ll need to produce a write up of what happened in the workshop itself. It also helps to take lots of photos on the workshop day. The purpose of the write-up should be to not only explain the purpose of the day and key findings, but also recommendations of next steps. Write-ups can be especially helpful for internal communication within the organization and bringing non-attendees up to speed with what happened on the day as well as agreeing on the next steps for the project.

Uncovering User Goals

Of course, Discovery is not just about understanding what the organization wants. We need to validate what users actually want and need.

With the business goals defined, you can then move on to explore the user goals through conducting some user research. There are many different user research methods you can employ throughout the Discovery process from Customer Interviews and Heuristic Evaluations to Usability Tests and Competitor Reviews, and more.

Having a clear idea of the questions you are looking to answer and available budget is the key to helping select the right research methods. It is, for this reason, important that you have a good idea of what these are before you get to this point.

Before you start to select which are the best user research methods to employ, step back and ask yourself the following question:

“What are the questions I/we as a design team need answers to?”

For example, do you want to understand:

  • How many users are interacting with the current product?
  • How do users think your product compares to a competitor product?
  • What are the most common friction points within the current product?
  • How is the current product’s performance measured?
  • Do users struggle to find certain key pieces of information?

Grab a pen and write down what you want to achieve from your research in a list.

Tip: If you know you are going to be working on a fixed/tight budget, it is important to get confirmation on what that budget may look like at this point since this will have some bearing on the research methods you choose.

Another tip: User research does not have to happen after organizational research. I always find it helps to do some exploratory research prior to running stakeholder workshops. This ensures you go into the room with a baseline understanding of the organization its users and some common pain points. Some customers may not know what users do on their websites/apps nowadays; I like to go in prepared with some research to hand whether that be User Testing, Analytics Review or Tree Testing outputs.

Selecting Research Methods

The map below from the Nielsen Norman Group (NNG) shows an overview of 20 popular user research methods plotted on a 3-dimensional framework. It can provide a useful guide for helping you narrow down on a set of research methods to use.


top 20 research methods
A map of the top 20 research methods from NNG. (Large preview)

The diagram may look complicated, but let us break down some key terms.

Along the x-axis, research methods are separated by the types of data they produce.

  • Quantitative data involves numbers and figures. It is great for answering questions such as:

    • How much?
    • How many?
    • How long?
    • Impact tracking?
    • Benchmarking?
  • Qualitative data involves quote, observations, photos, videos, and notes.

    • What do users think?
    • How do users feel?
    • Why do users behave in a certain way?
    • What are users like?
    • What frustrates users?


Source: Smashingmagazine

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