Why you shouldn’t skip a discovery phase on your next website project
As designers, we see the value of the job we do. Otherwise, we probably wouldn't be doing it. But from the eyes of a business owner, marketeer and other stakeholders it might not be that clear. I've come across multiple arguments made against a design phase. Let's talk about a few of them.
We don’t have the time
It might not seem important or time-consuming. But functionalities and design choices should always be evaluated and aligned with user needs and business goals. If you don’t, you run the risk to change things later or building something nobody wants, needs or is confusing your customers and making your website perform even worse. And that results in extra costs and more unexpected time that needs to be spent.
We will just copy from our competitors
Something might look good and perform very well on a competitor’s website but that doesn’t mean you should just copy it for your own project. And not because copying is bad. It happens all the time, everywhere and that’s ok when it makes sense. We are (most of the time) not trying to invent the wheel. But you can’t be sure beforehand that it will work the same for your audience. If possible, test it out. And if it works well, you can think about implementing it for your own project (and improve on it).
We know what we want
As a stakeholder, you are deeply invested in your own company, you know it inside out. You have specific insights and can share valuable information about what you want to achieve with your website and how it should help achieve your business goals. And that’s exactly why you should get an outside perspective too. You are really invested in your business and your look on it isn’t the same as a potential client. Design with your end-user in mind and verify with them what you think you need before building it. Because ultimately, they are the ones that choose whether or not to do business with you.
During the discovery phase, you can test hypotheses with users. You can fairly easily test and be sure that you are building the right thing. And depending on the scale of your company and budget. You can do this at various points in the process. Even a user experience expert doesn’t know these answers. At best, they can give you an educated guess based on past experiences. And if you are on a really tight budget, you might want to go with that as a starting point but testing your ideas is always better.
Imagine you are building a house. Would you tell your contractor to start construction before an architect has created plans for it?
A discovery phase is expensive
Imagine you are building a house. Would you tell your contractor to start construction before an architect has created plans for it? I don’t think so and you wouldn’t expect him to. You would want to make sure the plans are in alignment with what you want and need. Then you would approve the plans and only then your contractor will start working. The plans are a blueprint for all work that has to be done. By looking at them, everyone knows what is expected and what the finished product will look like.
So why would you develop a website before you have a clear and informed view of how it is going to function and look?
It’s pretty clear that if you need to adjust parts of a house after it’s built, it will be both costly and time-consuming. And even though a website is a digital product that is fairly easily adjustable compared to a house. Having to rebuild parts after it is already been developed is still very expensive. The time it takes to adjust a design is only a fraction of the time it takes to remove, add or adjust features of an already completed product. Not to speak of the possible conflicts or bugs you might introduce by changing everything around.
Coming up with a good design after a solid discovery phase helps you:
- sets clear goals
- aligns expectations for all stakeholders involved
- heavily reduces the chance of miscommunication
- makes sure you have the right set of features and functionalities that will help your business
Without it, you are setting yourself up for failure. Or at least a sub-par result. And that can cost you much more over time.
There are cases where you can slim down or even skip a discovery phase. For example, when you already have a platform and the tools in place to build new ideas easily and fast. For instance, you can easily build new landing pages that are in line with your brand using a CMS (or another tool) you already have. Then you can come up with an idea, build the page(s), test it in the real world, and iterate to improve its performance. You can do this at speed and low cost. But you probably have a reason to create a landing page and have done the research or have some data to support your idea.
Any digital project is a sequence of coming up with an idea, defining a possible solution (based on informed decisions), and then getting that solution to your users. You will almost always need to improve and adjust later. Don’t dwell too long on the decisions you make. Rather test them out. Because you probably don’t have all the answers beforehand and needs and requirements change all the time in our fast-moving world.
You want to make sure that you start with a solid base for your project and make sure you build the right things. And that is exactly where a discovery phase can help you.