The discovery phase in web design can help you create products and services that your users really need. Here’s why you need to take it seriously

Creating websites that people want to use requires an intense amount of research. To truly understand the people who will be using your products and services is the main current of user experience design.

Oriol Beda quipped in UX Collective that “research is still seen as a magic wand that is only waved when problems arise”.

If you don’t know who your audience is, how can you ever expect to design something suited to their wants and needs? The answer is you won’t. You’ll end up with a half-baked product that nobody will want to use. For a better design process, research should be a primary tool for answering problems and not a fall back for when things go awry.

So, what steps can UX/UI designers take to ensure that they’re creating successful work? When it comes to web design, one of the most important steps is the discovery phase.

In this post, Justinmind will run through what the discovery phase is, what it entails and how giving your own web design process a spruce with these few pointers can help you be a better designer.

What exactly is a discovery phase?

As the name might suggest, the discovery phase of web design is where you gather all the relevant and necessary information to be used for creating a great user experience.

That relevant and necessary information will include, but isn’t strictly limited to, user personas, journey maps, understanding a user’s pain points, interviews and research.

This information is then used to inform your design process.

Why is a discovery phase important in web design?

If you were about to go on a vacation you’re likely to go through some steps before you make a booking.

Typically, you would decide where you were going then from there research that place. Recommended restaurants, cool Airbnbs, local cafes and popular attractions are just a few of the areas you’d research.

You might also splash out on a language book to pick up some of the local lingo and a city guide to get a feel of the place before you land. Maybe you even know a few people who have been who can share their tips and tricks.

What you’re doing is discovering the place before you get there. You’re informing yourself so that you have the kind of vacation you want to have and that your experience in your destination goes as planned.

This is similar to the discovery stage in web design. By creating user personas, journey maps, pain points and research, you’re in the business of creating a journey for someone to have, albeit online and without a cheap phrasebook.

The reason why this is so important is without proper planning and insight into who your user is, how will you know what to design and market to them? Avon, the beauty brand, had to kiss goodbye to $125 million because of poor design choices. Discovery can prevent such drastic errors.

Robot and Pencils, a design agency, found that their fleshed out discovery phase earned their client 1.2 million more unique visitors a month and 1 million fewer calls to their call centers.

The discovery phase is beneficial because it can:

  • Prevent overspend later in the design stage
  • Help you understand the design problem at its core
  • Inform your design process
  • Make the road smoother toward a successful user experience

How to make your discovery phase more effective

Since building software and products without having your end user in mind is so costly, it pays to have a robust and effective discovery stage. Let’s look at a few ways you can boost your discovery phase for better web design.

Desk research

Never underestimate the power of desk research. It’s a crucial first step. Desk research is where you’ll go on the hunt for information that other people have already gathered.

Desk research is time effective and low cost since the information is already available. The research will help guide your focus for any subsequent research that will be carried out.

When it comes to carrying out interviews, you can avoid asking stupid questions as a result of your due diligence.

With web design, it’s good to know what came otherwise how will you know if you’ve discovered something new?

The sort of thing you want to research will include:

  • Information on your users and their goals
  • Existing business processes
  • Technology which supports business processes
  • Look at any analytics that are readily available
  • Talk to customer facing people who interact with users already

You can find that information out using books, the internet as well as looking at your own organization.

User experience strategist, Dr. David Travis, argues that we need to understand the domain we’re working in properly and failing to do preparatory research is disrespectful to your participants’ time. Not only that but desk research can help you sound more credible.


User personas

A well planned user journey takes into consideration your end users behaviors’, motivations and needs.

“The better the story, the more engaged your users will be. Structure is how story engages the human brain” Donna Linchaw, The User’s Journey: Storymapping Products That People Love

Designing a website which people want to use is made smoother with the help of user personas and their journeys using your product.

A user persona in its most simplest sense is a document with your ideal users. The persona is best when it’s really detailed and includes factors such as your users:

  • Desires and wants
  • Needs (stated needs, created needs and unstated needs)
  • Frustrations
  • Name, age, relationship status
  • Personality traits

You can download your UX persona template here to get started on your own.

Did you know that 90% of companies using personas are able to create a clearer understanding of who their buyers are? What else are user personas good for?

  • Improving your value proposition
  • Getting higher quality leads
  • Better conversion rates

Find out the difference between marketing personas and UX personas here.

User journey mapping

A journey map is the route that your user takes through a product or service. This can include any transactions, as well as different services like reading your content.

The starting point for a user journey map is then the user’s need for your website arises and ends, quite naturally, when they stop using it.

Understanding your user’s journey is what will help you design from their perspective. It’s all too easy to think we’re designing the best solutions possible but until we get into the head of our user, we won’t really know.


Maps have helped humans since they could make them. They’re tools which communicate the relationship of different elements contained within the map.

Jared Spool points out that maps can “show where our customers are receiving less-than-intended quality, where our designs create frustration, and how those issues change the way people interact with our designs.”

With that information you can start to create the most effective solutions because you’re seeing exactly where the problems are occuring.

What makes user maps useful and effective in web design?

  • Understand the interrelations between different components.
  • Understand how different components align with the broader objectives of the product/service.
  • Understand the pain points of your users and prioritize solutions


When you combine research, personas and journey mapping, you’ll be able to understand intimately your user, including their frustrations and desires. When you know this vital information, you can then begin to make the best products suited to your end users’ needs through gathering requirements and interactive prototyping.

Why the discovery phase is the most important web design step was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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