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Resourceful Designer podcast: Offering tips, tricks and advice for starting and growing your graphic or web design business.

How in depth is your Discovery Process?

The Discovery Process is kind of like dating, or at least what I can remember from my dating days. It’s done at a point in your client relationship when you want to get to know them better. What are their goals, what makes them feel good, what frustrates them, what do they like, dislike? Why do they want to work with you?

This conversation reveals the thoughts and feelings your client has towards their business, product or service.

Larger agencies have people who are responsible for the discovery process. They meet with the clients, define the strategy and goals of those clients, and create a creative brief, or a project plan for a design department will follow. All the designer has to do is read the detailed brief and start designing.

As a freelancer or home-based designer, you don’t have that luxury. Sure some clients may give you a design brief, but can you trust it to be what you need to create the best designs for them? No, when you’re on your own, the discovery process, as well as the design process, is all your responsibility.

What is the Discovery Process?

The Discovery Process is a fact-finding mission. A way to learn more about your client and to learn what they expect from hiring you for their design project. Discovery should be the cornerstone of every new relationship with a client and of every new design project you do for those clients.

Discovery not only helps you learn what you need to know before starting a design project, but it’s also an essential step in building relationships with your clients. During a discovery process, you will learn your client’s needs, you’ll learn their challenges, and you’ll also learn the results they’re expecting from you.

Discovery should be a two-way streak. Not only will you learn what you need to know about your clients and their projects. But your clients will learn about you as well. How you work, your thought process, how you tackle a problem, and so on. More importantly, they will learn things about themselves they may not have thought of before.

All of this is vastly important because to design without the proper focus is a waste of time. When it comes to any design project, designing is one of the last steps of the process.

As you know Design solves a problem, and if you don’t know for sure what problem it is you’re facing, how are you suppose to create a design that addresses it? Before you can define the problem that your designs will solve you need to go through a discovery process. A process that takes into account analytics, brand standards if they exist, goals for the project, and many other things to figure out what direction your creativity will take. Plus, keep in mind that while you make the required steps during your discovery process to find solutions to a given problem, you may trigger additional insights or even more questions about the problem that might lead you in whole new directions. That’s why the discovery process is so important.

Steps in the discovery process.

1- Define your client’s goals.

The first step in the discovery process is to determine what your client’s goals are. This is a two-way conversation between you and the client. The trick is narrowing down those goals to SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant/Realistic, Trackable/Time-Related). Ask your clients lots of questions and listen carefully to what they tell you. Because sometimes what they say isn’t really what they mean and they don’t realise it.

Your client may think their problem is they need to generate more leads but in reality what they need is better leads that convert into sales. Designing something to get more leads is entirely different to designing something to get better leads. Determining not only what your client says, but what your client needs, could take the design you create in a whole different direction.

Your job in defining your client’s goals is to ask the right questions to get to the heart of the problem they hired you to solve.

Speaking of questions, I’ve put together a list of questions you could use in your discovery process while talking with your clients. The list is too long for me to go over during this podcast, but if you are interested you can get it by visiting resourcefuldesigner.com/discovery

2 – Study your client’s competition.

To find the solution to your client’s problem, you will need to know more about their industry. What they do, who they serve, how they go about doing it. The best way to learn this is to study the competition.

Things to look for when studying the competition might be.

  • What makes your client different from their competition?
  • What would make people choose your client over them?
  • What hurdles do customers face when dealing with the competition that your client could address?
  • How does your client’s pricing compare to the competition?
  • What marketing strategy is the competition using and is it working?
  • What are people saying, both negative and positive about the competition?

Studying the industry and the competition is a vital part of the discovery process.

3 – Auditing your client’s marketing assets.

For existing clients look at what they are currently doing to promote themselves or have done in the past. What has worked for them? What hasn’t? Look at everything from their logo, business cards, flyers, website, social media presence, advertising, etc.

If analytics are available for their website, be sure to study them to see how people interact with their site. Find out what parts of the site gets the most traffic and what parts get barely any.

Depending on how much you are charging for your discovery process. And yes, you should be charging for your discovery process, Remember, Your clients are paying you for the entire package, not just the finished designs you will provide them. Depending on how much you are charging for your discovery process, you may even want to do an SEO analysis on both your client and their competitors. Look to see what keywords each is ranking. Is the competition ranking for any keywords your client isn’t targetting? Keyword research will go a long way in improving your client’s visibility in the search ranks.

By studying your client’s marketing assets, you should be able to spot their weaknesses and strengths which will help you set a path for your project.

If your client is a startup, then talk to them about what they were thinking of doing. Ask them what they like that other businesses are doing. Provide ideas and guidance for them. You may have thoughts they hadn’t considered. I love helping startups because you’re starting with a blank canvas and you know that you will do everything the right way.

4 – Examine your client from a customer’s perspective.

If you want to understand your client and their brand you need to experience it from the perspective of their customer.

If you already are their customer then great. You know first hand what dealing with them is like, and you can put that knowledge to work for you. But if you are not already their customer you can go out an buy their product or service as if you are a member of their target market.

Ask your family and friends for their opinion just like you would with other purchase you might make. Read online reviews about them. Learn whatever you can, just like if you were a real customer.

Talk to the salespeople online or in store. Ask questions about their product or services and ask what other customers have said about them.

If you can’t afford or don’t need their product or service, you can still go through the process without making the purchase.

By becoming a customer, you can fully see what it is your client wants you to achieve. Your experience will be precious for your designs as well as useful information for your client.

Put it all together.

Those are four steps to a sound discovery process. Now, of course, every client and every design project will require particular steps in their discovery.

Some general questions won’t be required every single time, and some unique questions may be useful in some instances. Only you will know how in depth you will need to go. On some projects, discovery can take an hour or two, while on other projects it could take weeks to learn everything you need before starting the actual design stage of the project.

The discovery process as a stand-alone project.

If the first project you will be working on for a new client is an expensive one they may be a bit hesitant without knowing more about you. Offering a discovery project as a way to “break the ice” is a great option.

If they’re still not sure after all the questions and research you’ve done then maybe the two of you are not a good fit. You can part ways, and all they will owe you is for the discovery process. They can take the information you gathered and use it themselves or even pass it on to another designer if that’s what they want to do. But chances are, if you’ve done your job right, they will see the value in sticking with you and decide to proceed with the project.

Remember, Discovery is like dating. Your job is to give a good enough impression that you get asked out on a second date.

How does this all add up?

When the time finally comes for you to start the design process, you should not be asking “Will this design work?” What you should be asking yourself is “Do I have enough knowledge to know if this design will work or not?” If you did your discovery process well, the answer to that question should be yes, and you will be on your way to creating a winning design for your client.

What is your Discovery Process?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Questions of the Week

Submit your question to be featured in a future episode of the podcast by visiting the feedback page.

This week’s question comes from Brianna

Is there an online course you’d recommend for best practices in developing/redesigning an existing WordPress site? All courses seem to assume you are building a whole new site from scratch. I can do that in my sleep, but more often than not a designer is tasked with redesigning something that already exists. Navigating somebody’s else’s code structure is a pain at best and I break out into a cold sweat whenever I am tapped for something like this. I almost always outsource the development because I just don’t know what those best practices are — even though I have a very similar skillset to those I outsource to. I’d love to get a handle on this type of project, as I have a huge WordPress site redesign coming up over the summer and would much rather keep all the work “in-house” so to speak.

To find out what I told Brianna you’ll have to listen to the podcast.

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Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn’t easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business, please reach out to me. I’ll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at feedback@resourcefuldesigner.com