Admittedly, the term “vendor” tends to make our skin crawl. Core to our studio’s being is the idea of cultivating relationships through partnership. Hence, “Adjacent”.
One of the most crucial ways to demonstrate our investment in such relationships is through Discovery. Whether it’s a project for a brand new client or one we’ve known for years, we use Discovery to more fully understand an organization’s goals and acclimate ourselves with the people with whom we’ll be achieving them. This phase often produces a high sense of excitement within the project team, and our job is to keep the momentum moving forward.
With the disclaimer that every project is different, our typical website Discovery includes lots of conversations and hopefully some face time. The main objective is for the team to create guidelines—in the form of business goals and design principles—to align future project decisions against.
Counterpoint: Ok, so a bunch of discussions and making some guidelines may sound like the kind of thing an organization can do on its own. Why would a design studio need to participate so early in the process?
Counter-counterpoint: Similar to some of the shortcomings we find with the RFP process, our expertise, input, and guidance can greatly help before a single pixel hits the screen. Since site design and functionality can vary quite widely on the web, we’re listening for common themes and clues that can directly—and indirectly—inform the final product.
Again, this is an opportunity to partner on the project.
We’re likely talking to people with a wide range of roles in an organization. We start with the project team—anyone who we’ll be working with closely throughout the course of the project. This is a great opportunity to put faces to email addresses and work towards our first draft of goals and principles.
Our conversations transition to interviews as we radiate out from the project team. For some, we’re digging to get a sense of how the organization operates and what it values most. For others, we’re looking to understand the hows and whys behind the project’s most invested individuals, commonly referred to as project stakeholders. At times, it may be helpful to talk to prospective site users to learn about common tasks and impressions of an organization.
While we establish project goals and principles prior to interviews, often we’ll find these discussions validate our initial assumptions or unearth themes we can use to refine those guidelines.
Establishing the Ground Rules for Design
Creating guidelines may seem somewhat arbitrary on the surface—we know how to make a good lookin’ website by now, don’t we? But if we don’t have anything to align our decisions against, we may end up with something that doesn’t help users or advance the company we’re working with. We need to know what determines success or failure for internal and external audiences.
Business goals outline how the organization will benefit from a successful project. For example, a nonprofit may want to increase online donations or a company its sales. The more clarity we can achieve in defining business goals, the better we can make an effective plan. Vague goals often yield vague indicators of success or failure.
Design principles guide our decision-making through attributes of aesthetics and function. What should the visual impression be? How should it feel to use the site? Whereas business goals are generally objective (increase conversions), design principles are often subjective (more dark colors than light), and that’s a good thing. By declaring which visual attributes to which a brand should align, the project team has a stack of guidelines to judge the design against, warding off personal preferences down the road.
Off and Running
Needless to say, the project team comes out of Discovery with high hopes and a much clearer view of the road ahead than before we started. It’s crucial we put what we’ve learned to use, as not to lose sight of our goals or memory of our interviews.
That’s where a Project Hub comes in handy. Not only does it map out our timeline, but it houses the core tenets of what the team will align their decisions against moving forward.
We value getting off on the right foot with the organizations we partner with, and Discovery allows us to do just that. Time and again, something previously overlooked or unmentioned comes out of this phase that significantly impacts the project, proving it’s always worth the time to get our ducks in a row.