Shabnam Gideon

An Introduction to Project Discovery

Thanks to @sidd82 for asking us to get specific about how we accomplish the very valuable question-asking we described in “Why We Do: Discovery.


As I described in the earlier post, Discovery is “a defined, contractual engagement that allows us to properly scope and schedule a project, and allows our clients to feel confident that we’ll achieve their goals within the specified cost and timeframe. The more questions we can ask and answer up-front, the more likely it is that we can honor budgets, timelines, and our pipeline.”

So with the end goals of not only accurate scoping and scheduling, but also healthy and productive client relationships, Discovery is an interesting and challenging blend of fact-finding and relationship-building. It’s also pretty detailed, so I’ll start with a high-level how-to and y’all can let me know if you want more details on a specific component.

With that, this is How We Do Discovery:

Business Development

We weren’t sure at first how to explain the value of Discovery to new clients who may or may not know the challenges in properly understanding and then scoping the projects they present us with. I’m sure Will Straughn, our Business Development guy, explains it in his own superlative way, but the nerdy version is that the value is in defining objectives and needs, outlining a plan for achieving them. That plan forms the basis of the statement of work for production. Oh, and Discoveries in 2015 resulted in something really close to 100% accuracy in scoping and scheduling.

Kickoff and Interviews

As with our production projects, we begin the Discovery engagement with a formal kickoff meeting in which we introduce team members on both sides, remind them of the purpose and value of Discovery, and describe the intended process and outcomes. We may also schedule follow-up meetings with additional stakeholders to help us understand their internal roles and responsibilities.

We’ve recently started asking about their communication preferences and internal work cadence so that we can ensure that our interactions with them (meetings and deliverables on a defined schedule) are both clear and compatible with their schedules. We’re also exploring introducing communication style assessments to primary project contacts so that we can take care to give and receive communication with a respect for each individual’s style. Stay tuned for news on that!

Competitive Review

Regardless of whether we’re doing a brand, UX, or a brand and UX discovery, we always survey our clients’ competitive landscapes. Based on answers given in a questionnaire that all clients complete before we engage with them (I smell a post coming on there), we look at both direct and potential competitors and markets. We also look at companies that exemplify any particular characteristics relevant to their goals.

Brand Discovery, Strategy, and Direction

  • Brand-specific Discovery consists of looking at the client’s existing brand experience, brand story, company benefits, internal values, and target audience, among other things.
  • Brand Strategy is, by definition, a long-term plan for the development of a successful brand in order to achieve specific goals. Head on over to Summer’s “Brand Strategy: A Bird’s Eye View” for the deets on contextualizing the client’s company in an effort to identify and isolate the most effective means of differentiation.
  • Brand Direction “defines a foundation and rationale for the visual brand experience,” culminating in a specific direction summarized by a Creative Brief, which provides a guideline for all subsequent design work.

UX/UI Discovery

There is a LOT that could be described here, but I’ll give you the bones of what we’re currently doing, though it’s likely to change in the near future. We ask as many questions as it takes to understand every component of the client’s experience and interface challenges and goals. The ultimate goal is a prioritized and linear plan of attack that can be applied to a calendar to gauge timeline. The final outcome of this phase is an outline of required steps and processes with rough associated timelines. Our questions center around:

  • Site/app/experience background
  • Benefits, differentiators, challenges, goals
  • Components, infrastructure, people, and technology resources
  • Specific service needs .


We deliver Brand and UX/UI Discovery documents separately, and prefer to wait to even begin the lines of UX/UI questioning until brand strategy is complete because, depending on the client, the brand direction could have significant influence on whatever interface we’d be creating. This documentation contains summaries of all our lines of questioning and the outline mentioned above. The outline is later converted into our production plan, and is of huge value in showing both us and the client all of the phases, steps, and dependencies along the way to the finish line.

So, @sidd82, did I begin to answer your question? I hope that these two Discovery posts have convinced our readers of their value. We’re finding that the process necessarily changes not only from client-to-client but also as we get better at conducting them and position ourselves as strategic partners, which is where some of the greatest value lies.

Thanks for reading!

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