Designing a New Website? Problem Seek Before You Problem Solve

Sarah Dzida
Jul 6, 2018 · 5 min read

How the discovery phase saves time and money

Before hiring an agency, make sure they fit your needs.

  • Look at their website and experience. Do their designs look customized or generic?
  • Discuss their process in detail — i.e., how they translate your goals into a final site — not just the hype in their marketing.
  • Ask who will perform the actual work: the senior execs courting your business, or their interns, or a subcontractor? Get the answer in writing.
  • Make sure they understand that SEO involves more than keywords on a page, and that site security requires more than a password.

Now, it’s your turn to ask yourself some hard questions.

You may think you know what your website needs before you contact various agencies, and that you simply have to find the right agency at the right price. But that’s like going to a doctor and saying,

“I know what my issue is … What do you charge, and can you just write me a prescription?”

It’s risky for clients to try to prescribe the remedy. And it’s equally risky for an agency to take a client’s self-diagnosis at face value. That’s when clients get burned. They request and receive a tactical solution instead of a real strategy.

Of course, tactics are important: they’re the tools. But a strategy is the overall plan that governs which tools to use. And a strategy starts with a critical questions:

  • What are your overall business goals?
  • What’s keeping you from achieving them now (or tomorrow)?
  • What other pain points are you experiencing with your business?
  • How will your site address them?
  • Which stakeholders does your site have to satisfy?

Most clients struggle to articulate these guiding points, and that’s where agencies like Ad Victorem come in. We ask hard questions, push back like any good doctor, then work with you to root out the actual problems before prescribing a solution.

Before he set out on his voyages of discovery, Christopher Columbus presented a well-planned strategy to the Spanish monarchs.

The discovery phase — usually a few weeks — involves asking hard questions, researching the target market, and analyzing the findings, all before diagnosing the problems. For example, look at this 4-week discovery phase for a recent client:

  1. Explaining Why Research Is A Business Requirement: Like many growing small businesses, the client knew something wasn’t right with their website, so they sought out multiple agencies to create a new design with an e-commerce template. And that’s a reasonable tactic — but was it the best strategy? And if it wasn’t, did that mean the tactics might be off target? When we asked about their big-picture needs and issues, they couldn’t articulate them. They were stuck on the usability problems that plagued their current site. Since we didn’t want to just “fix” what was broken or design blind, we proposed a 4-week discovery phase.
  2. Starting The Discovery: Our design team and several of the client’s stakeholders — from the CEO to the marketing manager — discussed what they wanted to achieve (both short-term and long), what they’re currently facing (problems and opportunities), and what resources (tech, time, and financial) they have to achieve their goals and address their issues. Together we fleshed out the website’s purpose, its value proposition (what it uniquely offers users in a competitive market), and defined expectations of the project with a clear allocation of responsibilities and agreed deadlines. And that was just the start.
  3. Performing The Discovery Elements: Like websites, discovery phases vary from client to client, situation to situation. Here’s what this client’s discovery phase included: user research, brand and product analysis, usability analysis of all the current websites, quantitative and qualitative analysis of their social media channels, newsletter, and other marketing media
  4. Applying The Outcomes: Having asked the right questions, the discovery phase identified the right problems, and that shaped the project’s outcomes, including both the customer experience and business bottom line. For this client, the discovery phase not only resulted in a more purposeful website, it helped them run their business more effectively and efficiently:
  • Smarter Investment: The price of a discovery phase can appear intimidating, but the client can now run their business more profitably. Having identified and articulated all their goals and issues, they can address them in more effective ways — beyond just fixing a website. They can allocate their resources to make the most meaningful short- and long-term changes. From the research, we discovered a number of issues we never would’ve learned in a typical kick-off meeting (used by 99% of agencies). Had these issues come up during the subsequent design and development (highly likely), they would’ve derailed the timeline and expanded the budget.
  • Smarter Tactics: On the design side, a clear business strategy enabled us to identify the best tactics to use, instead of just giving the site a facelift. We also identified other business opportunities, and designed the site to accommodate them in the future.
  • Smarter Collaboration: When goals, issues, and expectations aren’t clearly articulated and agreed upon, people can be the biggest obstacles in getting things done — with nobody to blame but a flawed process. A good discovery phase considers all aspects of the business and integrates the input of all key stakeholders. For this client, the resulting roadmap specified how to use each team member’s strengths while addressing their concerns. Consensus makes implementation easier, and even though detours may arise — needs and markets change — fingers are pointed at issues instead of at people.

The discovery phase is perfectly named, because it’s not just learning about project needs; it’s learning about the client’s business, vision, pain points, customers, competition, and other factors that can make a difference.

And that’s what we, at Ad Victorem, live to do: help our clients achieve goals, solve problems, and identify new opportunities.

So if you need a website — but are ready for more — drop us a line.

Dare To Win

Our thoughts on marketing strategies, creativity and business to inspire those seeking a competitive advantage in the market. Our Medium collection features articles by the team at Ad Victorem, an LA-based creative marketing agency for those who dare to win.

Sarah Dzida

Written by

UX Strategist + Creative Storyteller

Dare To Win

Our thoughts on marketing strategies, creativity and business to inspire those seeking a competitive advantage in the market. Our Medium collection features articles by the team at Ad Victorem, an LA-based creative marketing agency for those who dare to win.