Discover: Fill The Knowledge Gap
While framing up your design project, you jotted down a set of questions and knowledge gaps. In the discover phase, you want to learn enough about your users to support design decisions. These questions and gaps are your discovery drivers. You will use these to create a discovery plan that brings you closer to your target user. At the end of this phase, you will see how your project directly connects with their own journey and mental model.
You’ll tackle three activities during this stage of the project, which are detailed below. First, plan and carry out your discovery effort. Next, use what you’ve learned to better understand your users’ wants and needs. Then, you’ll wrap up this phase by mapping your user’s journey. At the end of the discover phase, you’ll have a research plan, findings, personas, user stories and journey maps.
Carry Out the Discover Plan
As you begin this phase, outline your plan for user research and information collection. Your discover plan will explain your research objectives and define your target user(s). Be sure to state your key questions and your hypothesis. You’ll also want to include any extra data points needed for discovery.
Next, create your research approach and methodology. When needed, support your findings with a variety of qualitative and quantitative research methods. Identify your team and any resources needed to support your discover approach. Within your plan, describe your artifacts and key milestones.
Last but not least, draft your research timeline. In a high pressure setting, you may need to make some tradeoffs in order to make a hard deadline. When this happens, help your stakeholders understand the risks and note the decision.
Carry out your discover plan before moving on to the next step.
Understand the Target User(s)
By now, you should know your users’ needs, wants and motivations as they pertain to your project. During this stage, you will use your learnings to define personas and user need stories.
As representative users, your personas tell a story that helps bring focus to the design process. Use your discover phase findings to develop realistic personas that include context, needs, attitudes, goals, and pain points. If needed, you can always conduct additional research to refine or confirm your personas. When working with a large team, these data driven personas support a shared understanding.
Next, expand on your personas by creating user need stories. Bring forward your findings to draft practical stories. These stories show how your personas might use your product or service. Once again, further research can confirm your user need stories.
If hard deadlines left you without enough detail to support personas and user need stories, consider them provisional. If possible, confirm them with additional discovery. There is always risk when creating unsupported strategic artifacts. Be sure your stakeholders understand this risk. Note your assumptions, and detail your outstanding questions for future exploration.
Map the Current User Journey
Now, let’s round out your discovery effort by mapping the current user journey. Each persona may have unique wants, needs and emotional drivers across the journey. Start by identifying all of the channels and touchpoints impacted in some way by your project. To make the best use of your personas, create journey maps that show how each of them move through the ecosystem in different ways. Be sure to note all key touchpoints and moments of truth.
If you are working with a large team, host a workshop to baseline your personas, user need stories and journey maps. Review all of your discovery findings with the team before digging into the details. Be sure to note any assumptions made and note your outstanding questions for reference.
Learn More About Research & Mapping
If you want to learn more about research and mapping, here are two great books that dig into these topics:
- Observing the User Experience, Second Edition: A Practitioner’s Guide to User Research by Elizabeth Goodman
- Mapping Experiences: A Complete Guide to Creating Value through Journeys, Blueprints, and Diagrams by James Kalbach
Wrap Up & Move To Design Approach
A strong connection to your user’s wants, needs and desires will inform your design approach. Once you have finished the discover phase, you’re ready to move on to this next step.
For more on the design approach, see Design: Approach The Design Problem.