What Is the Discovery Phase of the UX Process And Why You Should NEVER EVER Skip It

Sarah Dzida
7 min readApr 5, 2018

About once a year (probably more), I get into an earnest discussion with a business owner (agency or otherwise) on how best to package and market the discovery phase of the UX process. It’s basically the part of project where the design team gets to learn all about the product, the potential users and the business who plans to sell the product to them. Based on those learnings, the design team is able to make recommendations about how to build that product for that business and those particular users. Or more simply put, when you know what you’re dealing with and what you want to make, then you can enact a solid strategy and roadmap to do it.

From my UX perspective: The discovery part of the design process is the MOST essential component. But the truth of life is that the discovery phase is often the most difficult phase to get clients to sign off on. Often, they see it as an unnecessary detour from what they want to build. Or, they allow the cognitive bias of their own expertise to discount and short-cut around the value of the design team. Mainly, the business assumes that their information is enough, and that whatever they’ve imparted to you is probably all you need to get going with design.

Often, when I’m in these discussions, agency and business owners earnestly want to understand the steps of the phase better so they can sell it. But often, they ask the wrong question.

“What are the exact steps?”

When they ask this, they generally mean what are the 3–5 tools/tactics I will do for discovery every time. And I’m always at a loss because there’s no one way to do discovery. It’s all about finding stuff out, and what that stuff is is anyone’s guess until you have it or until you know you need it. So let me give you some examples from my own history:

Discovery When You Have a Budget for a Discovery Phase

An entrepreneur wanted to create a wearable for his event space. We had 3 months before an MVP needed to be defined.

First, I did my pass at the business in order to understand the MVP and requirements. I believe I sat my decision-makers in a room and had them create provisional personas to build consensus. I mainly wanted to see who they thought the users were. If they thought the same thing. Then, when we did user research, we’d see if their personas matched the…

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Sarah Dzida

UX + content strategy consultant by day; creative writer by night. Check out my new hybrid memoir: Dearest Enemy! www.sarahdzida.com | www.dearest-enemy.com