Creating websites that people want to use requires a large amount of research. If you don’t know who your audience is, how can you ever expect to design a website that suits their wants and needs?
The answer is you won’t. You’ll end up with a half-baked, Hodge-podged, bloated mess that nobody will want to use. For a better design process, research should be a primary tool for answering problems. Not a fall back for when things go wrong.
I was talking with a client the other day about redesigning their website. The site is an absolute mess. It’s confusing to use, cluttered, slow, and there doesn’t seem to be any sort of identity system in place. When I asked him what the design process was like with his current web developer, he said they ‘built what I said I wanted.’
I’d like to say I was shocked, but I wasn’t.
This order-taker approach to a project is an all too common occurrence in the web design industry. Especially with less experienced freelancers or people who are starting out. They want business, you need a website—and now you found someone to make you EXACTLY what YOU want.
Sounds great, right? Well, think of it this way:
- Would you hire a mechanic who says you need a new engine when he’s never looked at your car or run diagnostics?
- Would you trust a doctor who says you need surgery, but has never seen you or diagnosed your symptoms?
The answer to both questions is a heck no.
So what exactly is Discovery, anyway?
Discovery for a web design company is like the diagnostic tests doctors or mechanics perform. It’s a process we take to understand more about your business, your customers, and your website as it currently exists. This gives us clarity on where we need to end up and how we get there. Just as you are the expert in your business, a professional web designer will expect you to lean on their expertise. Working together we can have a collaborative design process that helps you succeed.
What does Discovery entail?
Some elements that are included in discovery are:
- learn about your business
- define goals
- define challenges
- identify customers
- define user flow
- plan the information architecture
- perform competitive analysis
Learn about your business
It’s important to do a deep-dive with you about your business. How did you get started? How long have you been in business? Who is your target market? What challenges are you currently experiencing? Learning as much as we can about your business, ensures that we build the site with the ideal customer in mind.
Defining goals helps us stay on track throughout the project. What is it you want customers or potential customers to do when visiting your site? Are you looking to collect emails? Have them purchase a product or service? Are they looking for information?
Is your current site slow? Are people confused on what to do or where to find important information? These are important points to discuss so we can resolve them in the best way possible. We want to consider these at the beginning of the process so we don’t have to band-aid things together later on.
Do you know who your target audience is? Like REALLY know? I often hear people say ‘we’re targeting everybody’ and while that’s an understandable answer, what is really important is who the IDEAL customer is. An effective website should resonate with the ideal customer. You want to speak their language, and optimize your site for their wants and needs.
Define user flow
User flow is really deciding on how your customers will achieve the various goals on your website and where they go to do that. Every site is different, and some websites—like those targeting a paid product (think an app or software)—will have more specific user flows than say, a meditation website.
Plan the Information Architecture
Information Architecture is a fancy way of saying ‘the navigation and page structure’ of your site. We’ll determine which pages should be linked in the top navigation, which should go in the footer, and how everything links together. This also includes things like the URL structure.
This is where we explore other companies in your industries, and both indirect and direct competitors. This is a great way to see what they’re doing right and wrong—and then copy them. There’s no sense in reinventing the wheel when you can de-construct how the successful players are doing what they’re doing.
Why is the Discovery process so important?
Creating a strategy on how to design or build a website helps keep the scope contained and the project on track. It makes the road smoother toward successful user experience since we have clarity on where we are and where we need to end up. This process helps avoid that Hodge-podged mess.
Search engine optimization and User Experience
Another important factor to consider is SEO and User Experience. When we are able to streamline how the site is built, we make it easy for the customer to do what they want to do once on the site. That is the User Experience. We want that to be as easy and headache-free as possible. Today’s customers are tech-savvy and expect a website to be up to standards. The last thing we want is for a potential customer to land on your site, then flee to your competitor because they have a nicer website.
Cohesive identity system
Identity systems are often overlooked. Especially if you’ve paid for a logo somewhere like Fiverr. You may have a logo, but how does that work within the broader system? What colors, fonts, or types of illustrations are part of the brand identity? After all, Nike is more than just the swoosh icon. Having a cohesive identity system, with colors, fonts, and icons that work in harmony actually help guide users through the site and give your a professional appearance.
What are the cons of not doing Discovery first?
The biggest downside to approaching a web development project without discovery is that it will end up cost you more time and money in the long run. From mediocre results, to sluggish, bloated websites that are hard to maintain, to pushing customers away.
Many people hire a design agency or a freelance web developer to make them a site that fulfills there every whim. Sites like Upwork or Fiver are notorious for this. And many freelancers will accommodate crazy requests because they need new business. This leads to an order-taker approach, and just being a set of hands pushing pixels. And that is no fun for anyone!
Often clients who had a site built this way, will need a completely new website in 1 or 2 years. How frustrating is that?! And that can be a huge disappointment. It’s tough to explain to these clients that reverse engineering a messy website will cost more time and more money than starting over.
I hope that solves some of the mystery behind Discovery! No matter the size of your site, it’s a crucial first step. If you’re not sure if you need a new website or your current site needs a little TLC, get in touch with a local web development company for help.