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Documenting Design Discovery

How six assertions inform briefs, strategies, and other deliverables

Discovery’s six assertions

So, what is in that language? There are six things that discovery produces:

  1. a problem: what you’re trying to fix
  2. an objective: what your solution is trying to achieve
  3. context: what adds constraints to the design process
  4. a big idea: the central concept that ties everything together
  5. rules: principles and guidelines that steer your process
  6. models: representations of the experience for inspiration, consideration, and testing

Assertions give artifacts purpose

Thinking about discovery outcomes in terms of assertions focuses on the point of the artifacts you’re making. A wireframe represents the structure of a page or screen, but why are you making it?

  • Does the wireframe highlight parts of the current site that need fixing? (problem statement)
  • Does the wireframe imply boundaries around the scope of your project (objective)
  • Does the wireframe describe the existing navigation framework in which your product needs to fit? (context)
  • Does the wireframe exemplify certain design principles? (rules)
  • Does the wireframe articulate the product’s primary structure? (big idea)
  • Does the wireframe represent one aspect of the experience? (model)

Assertions craft the narrative

Discovery is collaborative learning, and therefore requires coordination, building a pool of knowledge everyone can draw from. It requires bringing along project stakeholders who aren’t involved in every step, which requires producing something meaningful, accessible, and actionable.

Storyboard for a recent deliverable. Every “ingredient” of discovery was included, but structured in a way that made for a good story.

Six tips for great discovery documents

But, a good discovery document isn’t totally open-ended. Whatever format you choose, you can:

One last thing: Be humble.

If you can’t enumerate all your assumptions, you can surely approach discovery with some humility. You learned a few things, perhaps had a few flashes of insight. But you’re doing it in the service of the product, probably for a specific project. You’re not now the Keeper of All Knowledge.



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Dan Brown

Designer • Co-founder of @eightshapes • Author of 3 books on UX • http://bit.ly/danbooks • Board gamer • Family cook