So ... What Is Discovery?

Building a website is like building a house — each decision is built upon the decisions that came before. Just as an architect doesn’t just throw a number at you and begin working on blueprints, we don’t begin working on a project until we fully understand the scope. We do that through our discovery process.

  • Corey Vilhauer
  • Mar. 06 2020

There are a lot of unassailable truths in the web industry: site accessibility leads to better SEO; design trends change but user-focused layouts always persist; there's always someone who still has nightmares about Internet Explorer 6.

At Blend, one of these truths is actually pretty simple: the better you plan for a site, the more efficient and cost-effective that site build will end up. Measure twice, cut once: that's the motto of our web development process.

Which is why we are fully committed to the discovery process.

So ... What is “Discovery?"

Building a website is like building a house — each decision is built upon the decisions that came before. Just as an architect doesn’t just throw a number at you and begin working on blueprints, we don’t begin working on a project until we fully understand:

  • The audiences and potential visitors of the site.
  • The content and functionality the site will require.
  • The editorial needs of your team.

This is the basis of the discovery phase of a web project. While the end results of a discovery process might differ from shop to shop, it's all tied to one main goal: research and understanding of both your goals and your audiences' goals, all in the name of better strategic decisions. 

Why Does Discovery Matter?

When we talk about our discovery process, we’re essentially talking about answering three basic questions:

  • Who will be visiting your site?
  • What content and functionality will help make their visit successful?
  • How simple or complex do you want your design and build to be?

These three basic questions aren’t actually so basic: they require a lot of strategic thinking, and they require being open to overcoming your assumptions.

Learn more about the discovery process in the Web Project Guide.

Read the Chapter

These things matter, because every step of the process — from mobile hierarchy, to determining minimum viable product, to how the site is ultimately developed — falls back to the decisions made in these early stages.

Simply put, if you gloss over these decisions at the start, you will pay for them later on.

We don’t want our clients and partners to pay later on. We want to help make solid, strategic decisions from the start. We want them to understand why their site’s being built, why content is organized, and why their users will ultimately return to their site over and over again.

What Does Discovery Include?

Discovery is the opening movement for better design, and in this sense it comes in two parts: knowing your site and your users, and strategic definition of the site itself.

Understanding Your Site and Your Users

First, we need to know who will be using this site. What are their expectations? What outcomes do they hope to achieve? And how well is the current site equipped to handle this … or will we need to start from scratch?

This phase can include any of the following, depending on the project:

  • Site inventory
  • Site audit, including SEO and accessibility preparedness
  • Definition of audiences and outcomes
  • Site archetypes and personas
  • Interviews with stakeholders and/or potential site users
  • Competitive and contemporary analysis
  • Other industry research as needed

Defining the Site

Once we know the people who will use the site, we can build a site plan. This will outline the types of content needed to solve user goals, determine how that content will connect and interact, and create a model for how each template and component will be built.

This phase can include any of the following, depending on the project:

  • Site map and navigation UI
  • Content and template modeling
  • Taxonomic needs
  • Wireframes or non-functional prototypes
  • Iterative technical scoping
  • User testing and research, such as card sorting or prototype testing

The goal of discovery is to inform and plan the future site. For this reason, we develop an iterative set of wireframes and technical requirements that allow you to grow and adjust the scope of the site in a collaborative manner.

Do We Have to do Discovery?

We won’t mince words: technical planning and scoping takes time, effort, and expertise. It outlines requirements, helps determine a realistic schedule, and provides a more accurate price, but it also adds to the up-front cost of your project.

However, the work we do to strategically set up your project — from understanding site users to determining exact technical scope — is work that you then don’t have to do later on.

For us to ensure a level or quality and service on our end, we require that some level of discovery is handled — either by us, or by you or one of your trusted partners.

Before we take on any design or development project, we need at minimum the following:

  • An understanding of site users.
  • Full wireframes or prototypes sketching out the site’s templates and blocks in detail.
  • An understanding of design interactions, such as hover states and mobile responsiveness.
  • A technical scope to better understand how these templates and blocks will work together.

We don’t ask for these because we’re difficult. We ask for these because they’re required for us to give you an accurate, honest, and dependable bid … and, ultimately, product.

And that's really what we're looking for, right? The case for discovery isn't hard to make: step back, take a deep breath, and understand what you're trying to do, with help from people who have been through this process hundreds of times before.

For better decisions. And for a better site.