Photograph of green overlapping palm leaves

Many web design agencies present “research” and “discovery” as synonyms, but they are perhaps best regarded as separate tasks that inform each other.

Most clients have predefined ideas of what their site should do, who will be using it, and how. These may be realistic, but very frequently – especially if the client is small – their assumptions are often a combination of guesswork and ambition. Therefore, the best initial research is undertaken independently of the client.

This doesn’t mean that the client’s business intelligence should be disregarded; only that an informed outside perspective is vital to help the client succeed in their goals. In part four of this series I showed that by observing our fictional client for a day, we saw that there was a far higher number of tourists who spoke English as a second language visiting the store than the owner had realized. Our research also looked at competing companies in the area, and how they were communicating to their customers. All of this information was completely new to the client.

Research vs. Discovery

In this way, research is exploration, like a mariner circumnavigating new islands: observing the environment and mapping the outlying territory. Discovery is making landfall, and determining what resources the business has, and what is needed to complete the site.

Readers of might assume that we determined this during our initial interview with the client. Not so: we had a business owner’s opinion of what resources were available, not evidence. Content-first design is key, so it follows that a contract cannot be completed until existing content has been thoroughly audited. We need to be hands-on during this process, to determine what resources are actually present before we begin to design the site.

The Client Discovery Process

Over the next few days of this fictional assignment you find several deficits, typical of small businesses:

  • A vector outline of the company’s logo is only found in a PDF catalog, and will be difficult to extract for use on the site.
  • While Kanaka Fashions initially had a well-considered design standard, things have drifted from that point: materials are often presented in different typefaces and key colors. You’ll need to recreate a design library for the company that ties into the site.
  • No-one has the original RAW product photos: all that remains are highly compressed JPEGs. In addition, some of the photos are of products that are out-of-date, so new photographs will have to be taken.
  • The text used to market Kanaka Fashions is entirely in English, and is written for a brochure, not the web. While it will be a very useful resource, the text cannot be simply copied and pasted into the site, and will need to be rephrased and rewritten.

You do find some very useful material on the clothing resource flow at Kanaka Fashion, as well and plenty of fabric samples, which will be very useful in the work ahead.

The Self-Discovery Process

At the same time, it is your job to determine what resources you need to complete this project. Over the next few days several important details become evident:

  • The client has expressed a desire to maintain the site after the final push to the web. This implies that you will use some form of CMS. However:
    • The technical ability of the client is low, meaning that the CMS’s administrative controls must be simple, customizable and (ideally) foolproof, with careful control over content areas. You will need to devote time to training the client in how to administer the site.
    • Reflecting your earlier research, the CMS will need to have good localization and multi-language support.
  • You’ll need a photographer to re-shoot the fashion products, or to do so yourself.
  • A writer will need to be employed for the site’s body copy, together with a translator for the Japanese mirror of the site.
Craft logo

At the same time, your own development process needs to be reconsidered and streamlined. After researching the possibilities, you’ve determined that Craft will be the most appropriate CMS for this particular site; you’ll also be using to create the styles, and Gulp for tasks. While you might have experience in each of these technologies, for the purpose of this series we’ll be acting as if this is the first time you’ve used them in the full production of a site.

The results of the discovery process will inevitably alter the scope and time estimates of the initial proposal. That’s okay: that’s why a proposal is informal, rather than binding. What we have discovered in this process will inform the contract, which we will be looking at next.

Photograph of palm leaves on Oahu by Michael Porter, licensed under Creative Commons.

Enjoy this piece? I invite you to follow me at twitter.com/dudleystorey to learn more.