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The business of discovery

The Business Of Discovery
  • Date 10 February 2016

By the time we've finished discovery, we've gone beyond the traditional wireframe or Photoshop flat design. We're designing for the dynamic, content-rich fluid web and so our design process only ends when we know what the solution will look like across all platforms.


Andrew Larking's avatar

Andrew Larking

Creative Director


At TPXimpact we understand the importance of great design. We understand that great design is the outcome of a series of good decisions made by interested people. We understand that to make good decisions we need to be asking informed questions. We understand that the design process is 70% strategic research, 10% tactical delivery, and 20% buy in.

Ultimately the design process is used to avoid creating beautiful but ultimately broken products, and to focus us on solving business challenges in pleasing ways.

In brief, this is how we do it

  • We immerse ourselves in your business, your products, and your customers. We spend time with them, we get to know them, and we begin to build an understanding of them.
  • We record our interactions in detail, and we use this data to generate empathy that leads to insights.
  • Using the data, the insights and that empathy, we define a set of key challenges that we need to solve.
  • We produce first assumption solutions, which we test, and then iterate upon. We do this in turn, as a team, for each defined challenge until the complete design solution is ready.
  • We then build that solution.

And in detail

By the time we've finished discovery, we've gone beyond the traditional wireframe or Photoshop flat design. We're designing for the dynamic, content-rich fluid web and so our design process only ends when we know what the solution will look like across all platforms.

We start with senior stakeholder engagement

You're going out to tender because somebody has identified that some aspect of your offering isn't performing as well as it could, and you believe a digital product can help plug the gap. It's likely that you've completed one or more rounds of research, and you believe from the insights gathered by listening to engaged communities that there is a market fit for this new product. You've ensured that it aligns with your organisation's strategic goals, long-term vision, and product roadmap and that now is the time to execute.

As an external company we have none of that back story. We need to know it all before we start, and so our first step is to talk to the highest ranking people in your organisation. Those who appreciate the value of this project and understand where it fits strategically. We need to know of the hundreds of changes happening over the next three years, where does this one fit? What will it impact, does it have dependencies? Where does it rank? Who raised it in the first place? What does success look like at this level? Where, when, and how is your company going to move forward and grow?

Workshops

Our workshops don't involve roleplay and 'lets sketch the solution together' sessions. We define them as relentless questioning by us so that we discover the hidden priorities that pop up and derail projects when its too late to recover fully. There are no politics at play here, just candid and concise conversations.

Our workshops are designed to force us and you to discuss the awkward subjects and talk to the most relevant people. Each is tailored to you as a set of people and the specific challenge at hand. An audience workshop performed last month for Ascii Incorporated is probably not the best audience workshop for you. The same goes for content, design, taxonomy, technology, and information architecture sessions.

An audience workshop, as an example, will need to include the senior project team members as well as the people from the trenches. Those who answer the phone and respond to the complaints directly. And the people who back them up, dealing with the IT systems so that your customer relations team can keep moving. The people on the front line will have the answers to the problems you never knew existed and can steer the final design solution drastically away from the product you thought you needed. Having them involved at this early point leads to higher engagement from them and by extension of that, happier customers.

Interviewing your customers

You've probably already done this, and we'll read what you found out. But we still need to do it because it's likely you didn't get honest answers. This is not because you did a bad job, but because people are nice. Even if they want to kill to death the form on your site we're rebuilding, they'll not scream their frustrations at you. We all empathise, and we know it's not your fault the form is so bad, so why punish you for it? You'll hear that its 'bad' and 'was frustrating and hard to use' but you already knew that.

We need to go deeper. Why is the form bad? Is it asking for something you don't have available right now, and is it therefore a wider problem? Is the language confusing, and if it is what aspects are confusing to what customer segments, and did we get those segments correct in the first place? Is it the flow of the form, does the fact you ask for payment first nudge certain psychometric profiles into a state of distrust? And does that psych profile match the majority of your customers, and if it does are we targeting the wrong people or is the entire plan in need of change? The key insights that identify the actual problem can only be generated by spending enough time talking to somebody that they will open up to you, so that you can empathise with them.

A great example of this would be the discovery we did for a major Scottish university who wanted to increase applications from international students. One throw away comment from a Chinese student proved to be golden - "My parents don't use the internet". This was all it took to understand that international students tend to have their university chosen for them by their parents, and so the content you use must target them. i.e. less pictures of foam parties and more pictures of students in libraries alongside data that demonstrates increased salaries post education. That student made that comment not because we asked a direct question, but because we were chatting.

We repeat this until the small comments, insights, and challenges start to form a pattern. We write them all down, pin them to the wall, and study them as a team. Those amazing comments float to the top, the generic stuff sinks, and we identify our set of key challenges to work with.

We then present them to you, along with our research methodology, and agree as one team where we move next.

Visual design

The process then splits in two, our user experience consultants take the lead on user journeys and wireframes, whilst our designers begin ensuring your brand is digitally capable.

Wireframes

Wireframes are only supposed to define the requirements of each successful user journey, the content needed and the functionality of the page. However they have matured over time into low fidelity representations of the final pages, and the wireframes we create can be anything from sketches to fully clickable and responsive site. As such the UX, design, and technical teams work on them as a group, each with key responsibilities.

The UX consultants are there to ensure we don't confuse the user. That the journey is as simple as possible, the navigation makes sense, and each defined task is covered. They ensure that content is easily found, that journeys aren't jarring, and that the cognitive load is as low as possible. Essentially they make the product easy to use. The UX consultants are the advocates of simple user journeys, and task-led design. They only care about visual design and technology choices where they impact upon usability and accessibility. They are the keepers of the details, and ultimately responsible for how the final design solution works.

The designers focus on adding the visual wallop whilst maintaining your brand. They specifically, and by design, pay no attention to what is possible or how we'll build something. They are there to question everything the UX consultant says, repeatedly ask "what if", and to fight against the ugliness. They understand that once you've seen something you're immediately beginning to buy into it, and so the wireframes must not stop them from creating something incredible later. They'll be the advocate for minimalism and a pure design focus, where the technology used and what has been done before are of no consequence.

Solution architects form the third key role for this phase. Whilst they will never halt an idea because it is technologically challenging, they are responsible for keeping everyone's head firmly in reality. They are the sensible, logical, advocates for the build phase. Nobody wants to buy into a concept that will push the production over budget, but also we don't want to stifle creativity with what we know to be possible now. The SA therefore takes on board the solutions being discussed at this early stage and works to understand how possible they are for the budget. Where they aren't in scope they provide the constraints the UX and design teams work around. We know how important this role is in discovery, and so we use our most experienced developers. They'll be with you from day one, and will lead the build phase.

Style tiles

While the wireframes are being built and tested the designers are also working on your style tiles. The web is not made of pages, it's made of content. Content from anywhere, displayed on anything. And so we won't start the design process with pages, but bits. We'll identify your digitally safe but on-brand colour palette, your typographic scale, your content grid, and your interaction design parameters. We produce finished and polished design snippets, from buttons and form elements to more complex galleries and navigation systems. These tiles are like Lego bricks, each one is designed to be responsive and accessible, and they can be assembled into pages by anyone as they carry the brand with them. They are flat designs so that we can be fast and iterate often, but once complete are turned into living code.

Your pattern library

The pattern library is the core of the design solution, and the main outcome of discovery. It goes beyond the traditional prototype because it is the actual finished deployed code we use on your site. All that is left is to hook it up to the content management system. We work like this so that you know, before you sign off, exactly what the final site will look and feel like.

The pattern library is built by our front-end developers, working closely with the designers. They turn flat artworks into responsive pieces of front-end code, which are then assembled into the final pages defined by the UX consultants during the wireframe process. You'll also get a pattern library page, which can be thought of as a digital brand book, which shows each piece of the library alongside the code that created it. This way third parties you work with can easily create on-brand digital experiences.

Summary

The discovery process is the toughest part of any project but the more you invest in it the easier the build phase is, and the more likely we'll be to hit your KPIs. The discovery process sets the scene and the vision for the entire team. It builds the empathy with the end users that we need to design human focused solutions. Dr. Ralf Speth of Jaguar once said, "If you think good design is expensive, you should look at the cost of bad design." I can't improve on that.

Let's work together

Have a project in mind or looking to join one of the fastest growing transformation specialists? We would love to hear from you.