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In today's article, What is Discovery Phase UX, we will explore how a solid foundation helps companies and organizations reduce any occurring problems down the road. 

The discovery phase in UX boils down to starting a digital project with a solid foundation to save on time and money.

We will discuss what this phase is about, including the following subtopics:

It is quite true that companies who do not invest in the discovery phase invest 2x to 10x the amount later, fixing all the problems that occur during the entire project. 

Another sad truth is that many companies encounter many issues when it comes to handling digital complex projects. Such problems include:

  • The project scope is too enormous.
  • The creatives are off.
  • There is no focus on the technical and programming side.
  • There is no clear understanding of the problems and what is being solved.

Because the digital project was built on a poor foundation, these issues can take a toll on your digital projects to the point that the project can be cost-effective to start from scratch. 

Therefore, having a discovery phase at the preliminary phase of your digital project is essential. It will guide the initial direction of the design phase, which will show the development phase and everything that will come after. All these rest on the assumptions and design decisions made at the beginning of the design phase. 


What is the discovery phase?

A discovery phase is an initial phase in the UX design process that includes research, wireframing, and data gathering on what direction to take on the next level.

This phase does not involve testing hypotheses and solutions.

Discoveries are also often referred to as "product discoveries." This phase is essential to setting design projects off the right track by tackling the correct problems and building things properly. 

To be effective, discoveries should have a sense of technology and broad. It should start with an overall objective, such as saying, "Find out about this problem. How big the problem is, and what the possible opportunities are."

Correctly made discoveries that the proposed solutions are user-friendly, suited for the company, and feasible with available technology. 

A product discovery should result to:

  • Understanding of users
  • Understanding of the existing problems and how to solve them
  • Shared vision with the team, including the stakeholders

As a UX team, the primary goal during the discovery phase include:

  • Getting familiar with the current situation and the problem involved
  • Understanding users' needs and checking all possible opportunities
  • Building communication bridges with both internal and external stakeholders 
  • Facilitating a shared vision among the team and stakeholders on the next step to take


When to use discoveries in UX

There are so many types of activities where you can use discoveries. However, here are the typical activities where the discovery phase is used primarily for UX:

Exploratory research

The type of research that helps us learn new things about a website is often called generative or exploratory research, and this involves researching new and open-ended insights. 

Exploratory research helps us discover and understand the problem. However, this does not involve any guerrilla user testing or evaluating any potential solutions. 

 At the beginning of the discovery phase, expect the research topic to be broad, and it should narrow down more on the aspects of the problem, which have the most unfamiliar grounds or most significant opportunities.

Standard exploratory research methods include user interviews, diary studies, and field studies. 

Surveys can often be used for data gathering from a larger group, which the data can be triangulated with qualitative insights using other known methods. 

Focus groups can also be used in the discovery phase. 

Stakeholder interviews

Stakeholder interviews often provide you with knowledge, insights, and data on internal or backstage development process. This also includes users who have interacted with them.

Thus, stakeholder interviews can help the UX collective team better understand the problem and provide future solutions.

Interviewing people in the organization provides you with the following data:

  • Important business objectives include individuals, organizations, and teams. 
  • Data insights on the problems that affect the users and the impact they have on backstage work
  • Solutions that were tried before but did not work. This includes implementing solutions, the problems that occurred, and why they were removed.

Workshops

Workshops are helpful tactics for discoveries, aligning team members and stakeholders. Some of the popular workshops that are commonly used in the discovery phase include:

Kickoff workshops

This happens at the beginning of the discovery. The goal of kickoff workshops is to create alignment on the objective of the discovery and when it can be completed. It can include agreement on the roles and responsibilities of each team member.

Kickoff workshops are usually attended by the client or key stakeholders invested in the discovery design phase, including the discovery team itself.

Assumption mapping workshops

Experts are brought to the UX team to do data gathering, and they also handle the questioning of specific facts to identify any assumptions that require exploration. 

The mapping workshops should prioritize the riskiest assumptions in terms of research.   

Research question generated workshops.

This workshop type is similar to the assumption mapping workshop, and the two are often combined. 

The UX team tackles the unknowns in this workshop and drafts them into questions. The research questions are prioritized in importance and based on how they gather the business data needed to move forward.

Affinity diagramming workshops

The insights and other observations are converted into sticky notes once the exploratory user research is done (interviews, contextual inquiry, and diary studies). The team works the affinity diagram to uncover themes related to the problems, causes, symptoms, and needs. 

Service blueprinting workshops

This is where the UX team plots insights and business analysis using a large map of services. The map identifies any gaps that may require further research and opportunities. 

Problem-framing workshops

The UX team defines the problem using simple statements focusing on the team moving forward. It also involves ideation sentences such as "how," "might," and "we" based on the problem statement. 


Who is involved in the discovery phase?

Real discoveries are best performed by multiple teams with different specialties and disciplines. The team members should be full-time on the project. 

The number of people involved will depend on the scale of the problem and the discovery activities.

The key roles may include:

A person assigned to do the research can plan and carry out the user research, such as a UX researcher or a UX designer.

A person who can stand as a leader and facilities the team. Some teams and members may be new to handling the discovery phase and may need some experts to advise from a person who has the experience.

A team leader is also essential for too large and requires some to lead and facilitate. 

You may find titles that can fit this role, like product, project, delivery, service, or UX strategist.

The role of a team lead involves:

  • Facilitating workshops.
  • Ensuring that the team can communicate well with one another.
  • Maintaining alignment throughout the entire discovery phase. 

 A sponsor or owner is needed to own the project. This person should have a lot of domain and subject-matter skills and expertise to be consulted when needed.  

The owner should also be influential in getting the entire discovery team easy access to other people, teams, and data. 

A technical person, like a developer or a technical architect, knows a lot of technical terms and details. This person should also handle the communication to engineers to explore available technologies and understand the capabilities and limitations of these technologies. 

Additionally, you may also have expert team members like business analysts who can provide:

  • Business research processes.
  • Visual UX designers in charge of branding.
  • Interaction designers who work on developing design principles. 

Before the discovery phase starts, it is best to talk to all the project members to clarify their roles and responsibilities. 


User research in the discovery phase

The role of user research in the discovery phase provides the team the advantage of tackling the right problem. 

It also ensures that the problem is adequately defined, that the team understands well what the situation looks like, and they can see all options for solutions. 

It also equips the team members with a plan to carry everyone forward in the following phases. 

The goal of user research in the discovery phase is to get insights that can be used to inform personas, customer journey maps, and digital experience objectives that guide future design and decision making.

The most common research tasks that take place in the Discovery phase include:

· Assessing the value proposition of an existing or envisioned product offering and weighing this against a product's strengths and weaknesses

· Investigating the development phase a person follows to accomplish tasks related to the digital product, both in-app and in real life, to find unexpected ways to innovate and refine

· Evaluating the usability of an existing digital product offering and pinpointing problem and opportunity areas

It would be best to remember that every digital product is different and naturally, the approach can also differ based on the questions you seek. However, no matter what the product is, one thing holds- that data is essential. 

Triangulating qualitative insights with data gathered eliminates any blind spots and allow critical thinking. 

The value proportion guided research.

The value proposition is defined as the advantage of the customer's value when it comes to purchasing a product or service. 

For digital product designs, it is essential to keep an inherent value proposition to help with effective user research. 

Considering the product's value proposition during the discovery phase enables us to design process, build, and communicate about the product that is true to its value. 

The value proposition guided UX research involves verifying users' needs checking whether the value proposition appeals or is helpful to them. 

You can research to refine the value proposition on an existing product or if you want to develop the value proposition for a new product. 

Here are several guide questions that you may answer:


Questions when assessing  

Research can be done to refine the value proposition on an existing product or develop a value proposition for a new one. Here are some of the questions we try to answer:

When assessing the value proposition of an existing product:

· How do customers view the offered value?

· Is the value proposition clear? Does it live up to its promise?

· Will your customers find the product message appealing? 

When developing the value proposition of a new product:

· What is the value of the product to the customers?

· How does the product set apart from its competitors?

· What are the critical tasks the customers should accomplish?

· What are the customers' pain points?

You can check out the standard research methods that are used to create a value proposition in UX research:

· User interviews

· Surveys

· Competitive analysis


The workflow and the process

The workflow and process research helps us understand how people accomplish tasks or get things done. UX researchers need to look at the following:

· The individual steps that people take to accomplish larger tasks

· The relations that users depend on

· The motivations that drive the users

The goal should identify the sections of a user's process, which can also open up significant opportunities for streamlining and improvements.

The goal here is to identify challenging areas of a user's process that offer the most significant opportunity for streamlining and improving.

The workflow and process research is a good fit if you are looking for answers to the following questions:

· What are the users trying to accomplish using your product?

· How do the users perform a specific task?

· What are the user's pain points when dealing with certain aspects of the process?

· Are there opportunities to streamline or innovate to better create specific features of processes?

Here are the standard methods used in the workflow/process UX research method:

· Goal and task-focused user interviews

· Contextual inquiry

· Behavioral analytics review

Usability UX research

Usability UX research provides a way to study the app, website, or digital product users utilize.

Observing the users allow UX researchers to see how the users interact with the product. 

This will give us the necessary insights to uncover the problems and discover opportunities. 

This approach is beneficial during the discovery stage as it helps UX researchers uncover the problems that need attention. 

The usability research method is a good fit if you want to answer the following questions:

· Can users achieve a goal?

· At what stage/s do users encounter problems when using the product?

· Are there any root causes of the problem?

· What are the workarounds used to navigate a past known problem?

· How can this existing experience be improved?

There are several ways to conduct usability testing: remote, in-person, moderate, unmoderated.

This usability testing method can also be done with paper sketches or high-resolution mockups across various products or a particular task.


What to do after the discovery phase?

After the discovery phase, the UX team should now have a detailed understanding of the problem and the outcomes to focus on, including where the efforts should be made. 

The team should also have high-level ideas for solutions that they can do to move forward.  

Discoveries should not just be about creating outputs. The following may be produced to help the UX team organize their learnings about the problem:

· A final problem statement including the problem description with evidence that details how big the problem is and why it is important

· Service blueprint

· User journey map

· User needs

· Personas

· Wireframes


Summary

While there are a lot of companies who have succeeded in implementing discoveries in product creation, most discoveries still fall short, under-sourced, and do not have the full support of the organization.  

This frequently happens because key stakeholders do not understand the value of a discovery phase. This attitude results in too many design process projects that have explored the already familiar concepts of the design space, which caused missing out on essential building features that should have satisfied the user's needs. 

As someone from the UX team, you've done an excellent job developing processes and convincing others that we should try and test with users. 

However, part of your job is to provide better education to people in your organization, explaining why it makes sense to spend time discovering. This includes the importance of involving other UX experts in the early part of the design process project. 

You can only imagine how successful your projects could become if you can make all these happen.

Mary Ann Dalangin

About the author

A content marketing strategist and a UX writer with years of experience in the digital marketing industry.

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