Discovery is an exciting period of time at the start of a project when strangers, often from different backgrounds and with little in common, get together and figure out how to bring a new idea to life. A good discovery can set the tone for all the future interactions on a project, and helps ensure the delivered solution serves the needs of both its audience and the business. Communication about the process, clearly defined roles, and a healthy sense of humor go a long way in making sure the discovery ends up where everyone wants it.
This is the first of three posts with some tips we’ve picked up along the way doing discoveries for businesses, educational institutions and not-for-profits:
Cast a Wide Net
The problem with a room full of experts is that they will tend to have common assumptions and ways of thinking about things. Often these biases are not shared by the people who are expected to use whatever is being built. Gaps between the mental models of stakeholders and audience members lead to barriers in the user experience. So, it’s important to get as many people represented in the discovery as is practical. The user experience best practice is for the projects’ target audience to be a big part of the mix. If you have any influence over the invite list, lobby for actual customers / visitors in addition to the typical “insiders” (marketing and business stakeholders.)
Sometimes however, access to customers / visitors just isn’t available. But, there may be people available who are “inside outsiders” and who can come to the project with a different perspective, if you can find them. Push for actual audience members, but if they can’t be included, inquire about interns, clerical staff, or people from domains outside the project’s focus. And if you cannot include audience representatives in the discovery, make sure to plan for augmenting the discovery later in the project and validating its assumptions with real-user tools such as customer surveys, card sorting, or robust user testing.
Don’t forget to diversify the participants from your own team! Consider bringing along people from development and project management as well as design practitioners. Each discipline brings in, and takes away, different things that the others might miss.
Be A Dummy (But Don’t Act Like One)
We’re all socially conditioned to downplay our own inexperience and ignorance to avoid embarrassment. But in discovery, those are actually your greatest strengths! A successful discovery leader or participant is aware that not understanding something is a signal to speak up and ask for explanations.
Experts find it hard to remember what it was like not to be an expert. The members of your stakeholder team may have trouble putting themselves in the place of someone who has limited or zero knowledge of the jargon, assumptions and arcana of their area of expertise. When this happens, play the dummy card. Ask how the stakeholders would explain themselves to somebody who knew nothing about their domain. If the explanation isn’t comprehensible enough, press for clarity. Remind stakeholders that confusing users has costs that run counter to their business goals. For example, rather than stick around and wrestle with something that’s too difficult, confused visitors are more likely to just bounce off the site and go elsewhere.
In the next post, we’ll talk a bit more about tools and platforms, and how to make the best use of them. Want to learn more tips now?