In a web design project, the Discovery Process is a phase of the project in which the two parties unearth and establish the client’s current resources, brand, voice, and goals. It’s also much more than that…
Jane: It seems to me that “Discovery” means different things to different people. So from your point of view, as a web designer, what is the discovery process?
Kalman Gacs: It can mean a lot of things and there are a couple components to it. First of all, it’s understanding the client’s goals. You can’t design an effective website, especially a marketing website, without really understanding what the goals are.
For one, it’s the audiences. You have to understand who the audiences of the website are, and then what goals the client has for each of those audiences. So in some cases it can be very straightforward, but if you don’t make sure that you’re asking the right questions, you can easily miss or misunderstand some audience type. Then that audience isn’t finding what they’re looking for on the website, or not finding a tone that is appealing.
For example, for our client Campus Compact, they build civic engagement on over a thousand campuses. So their audience spans students, professors, university presidents, but also the deans, and finally, donors. All of those different audiences need to find a message that suits them so they don’t feel like they came to the wrong site.
"you also want to look at what we call 'aspirational peers'"
Jane: So when you’re going through a discovery process with a client, it sounds like it could ostensibly be just you asking questions, and them answering. In what way is this a process? Don’t you just need their mission statement and who their customer-base is?
Kalman Gacs: Discussion can certainly be a big part of it, but even for a client who did their homework, it can become a true, dynamic exploration.
One part of our discovery process involves looking at the websites of parallel organizations. You can not only learn the tones that parallel organizations are using to target their clients, but you can also learn about…you can even get ideas about the goals that those other organizations have for different audience types.
You also want to look at what we call “aspirational peers.” Those folks who are similar to you but maybe a little bit further along, a little larger than you. Somebody you can assume would’ve spent a lot more money marketing and targeting the same audience as you.
Jane: How much would you say that discovery processes vary, between types of organizations, types of industries, or types of people? What makes for the smoothest sailing?
Kalman Gacs: The discovery process can vary a good bit. For an organization that’s fairly sophisticated about its marketing already, then the discovery process will also need to rely heavily on analyzing data.
We want to know how much traffic different pages are getting already. You don’t want to invest a lot of money and energy redesigning a page that no one is going to go to. So you want to be thinking about those traffic patterns. A deep dive into their analytics can allow us to build a site that can meet the audiences needs in a sophisticated way,
For an organization that is also sophisticated in understanding its audiences, might go further and start surveying the specific audiences that they don’t think they’re serving that well yet. Sending out e-mail surveys, a pop-up survey on the website, or in-person interviews with a sample audience –the process can really vary depending on the size of the project and client.
"what I see is that the discovery process can grow your ambition"
Jane: Don’t name names or anything, but can you remember a specific discovery process you went through where the client was way off base? As in, they thought they had a good idea of who their audiences were, and who their site was speaking to, and then by virtue of the discovery process, they had a big revelation? Or do you find that the discovery process more solidifies what people already think about themselves?
Kalman Gacs: What I see is that the discovery process can grow your ambition. If you’re looking at your competitors and you realize that they’re serving their audience in a different way, you end up deciding not to neglect…so for instance, a lot of professional services companies, they say, “Well, our website is to get new clients.” That’s the first thing they think of. But, upon further reflection, they realize that sometimes those partnerships that they’re seeking, are just as important. So that way they look to potential partners, that ends up being just as important. All of a sudden that changes their messaging a little bit, and shifts them in a little bit of a different position, where they’re making their site for those semi-peer organizations or other types of partners. So, again, yes, in that way, we’ve seen some real major shifts as we delve in and find parallel websites for organizations.
Jane: So let’s say I have a company or firm of some kind, and I know I need to do something about my website. I know I need to start the redesign process or just start a conversation with someone who knows what they’re talking about. What is it that I can bring to the table that can inform the conversation the most?
Kalman Gacs: The quickest and easiest thing I recommend in early meetings, usually, with a client or a potential client, is to say “Bring some examples of those similar websites. Find a few you like, and even a few you don’t like.” Say, “OK, here’s a fellow construction company. I don’t think that do as good of a job, here’s the reason.” And more importantly, really good ones. “Here’s a company similar to us, but online they look way better.” Let’s figure out together what it is that makes them look so good online and resonate so well. And of course then adding the individual aspect of your firm. But to have that start of a few examples like a client thinks is strong…sometimes we find that those sites aren’t actually as strong, but at least the conversation gets going, of what it is that’s going to make a site work.
Jane: Do you recommend a discovery process for every project? Is it ever that a site is so simple that you think it doesn’t warrant a discovery process?
"without a discovery process, the lifespan of the site will be inadequate..."
Kalman Gacs: I think in some form the process needs to be there, because I’m never going to be an expert in understanding the inner workings of a company or even fully understand the customer mentality of a company. Even for B2C, where I fall right into one of the target demographics, the key word here is ONE, and we have to make sure we understand the target audience well.
So it’s always going to be critical for me to understand, to take a little time to understand that specific company and their audiences. Even if I’ve designed a site for a really similar organization or company, nevertheless, I need to understand what is special about this company. What are their customers like? What do their customers appreciate about them? So even in the most simple sites, otherwise simple sites, I always recommend that there be a little time taken to understand the company. I’ve just seen too many examples of websites being designed by web firms that don’t do this, and really misfire. Sometimes even when the website’s launching, you can see how it’s not matching the needs of the company or organization. Even more so if you go a year out, or two years out, They added all sorts of features that aren’t being updated. They didn’t really talk to that company and say “How often do you have news coming out of your company?” And then the site has a dead blog, because they didn’t understand that that company wasn’t going to be able to maintain that over time. Without a discovery process, the lifespan of the site will be inadequate because it wasn’t thought out well enough to begin with.
Jane: So during the discovery process with clients or potential clients, do you like to just be talking to one person, or do you like kind of a peanut gallery? Do you think more voices create more honed opinions?
Kalman Gacs: It really does help if a client has one or two point people, BUT we really believe in involving a lot of people. If Jessica from HR isn’t in on the original meeting, you might lose an opportunity to add materials for employees on the site, that would save Jessica from HR four hours a week. If you get a wide array of employees involved EARLY in the process you can get good feedback during all steps from them. Many employees rightfully feel ownership of a website, as it represents them and therefore those employees will scrutinize the site closely, and you can get a great benefit from those eyes.