What is a UX discovery, and how do we perform it at Merge?

When thinking about the design of digital products and solutions, we often like to paint a picture of a continuous creative flow that comes straight after the beginning of the project. But great design doesn’t just come out of nowhere. It gets preceded by hours of thorough research, methodical planning, and bursts of thoughtful creativity among them. Our team calls that amalgamation of essential pre-design activities a “UX discovery.”

Needless to say, while each product naturally is unique and the steps we take in the process of its design (and development) are always adjusted to the project’s scope, our discovery phase follows a set of predetermined steps, five to be exact, which we will explain in detail in this article. By the end of this, you’ll be able to see exactly how we prepare to make your products as remarkable and user-friendly as they can be.

What exactly is a product UX discovery phase?

Let’s delve into semantics first. In any type of project design and development, the discovery phase is an important preliminary (technically the first) stage that involves putting together as much information about the future product as possible, such as:

  • Overall problems and user pain points that this project intends to solve
  • Tasks that need to be accomplished from stakeholders’ perspective
  • The initial direction in which the team should be headed
  • Competitor research to learn the "dos and don'ts" of your industry and niche
  • A deeper understanding of the business and its audience

At the end of this phase, the design team gets a clear project blueprint from the user experience perspective. There is almost no testing of any assumptions or UX solutions because, at this stage, there are none. The discovery phase is all about figuring them out for smooth sailing of the product creation.

The discovery phase brings together everyone with a say in how a product will turn out - stakeholders, other employees in service, support, sales, marketing, and other departments, as well as product experts, designers, and software developers. Existing and potential customers and possible competitors are also indirectly involved, as they are the primary subjects of our research.

Our product UX discovery process

The product UX discovery phase is a relatively new practice in our team, meant to help us create more researched and thought-out products and elevate our designs to the point where they are their most user-oriented selves. We devised the following five steps to assist us in gathering insights more effectively and make our design and development processes much more straightforward.

This is how we do UX discovery at Merge
This is how we do UX discovery at Merge

Stakeholder workshop

Our team always considers all three critical sides in our discovery and research processes - client, customer, and competitors. We begin our product UX discovery journey by scheduling a stakeholder workshop, previously agreed upon on the intro call, with a facilitator from the Merge team and representatives from the clients’ side.

The stakeholder workshop is a pre-proposal stage during which we tell our clients what will happen next in the product creation process. The central part of the next call is the product UX discovery presentation. Before we send our potential clients the follow-up, we create a stakeholder workshop questionnaire and then tailor it to address the needs of this particular project.

Stakeholder workshop questionnaire

The questionnaire usually includes but is not limited to specific inquiries about the project, the client’s company, known competitors, and the target audience, all of which are meant to deepen our understanding of the future product.

Our standard questionnaire always calls for the following information and is adjusted depending on whether we make a product from scratch or do a redesign:

  • Company info - mission, goals, market positioning (how they distinguish themselves from other companies and similar products), how do you monetize or plan to, most prominent features of existing or future products, problems they solve, and problems you want to solve, etc.
  • Key product metrics (including desired success numbers), such as conversion, retention, and churn rates, monthly recurring revenue, customer acquisition costs, daily active users, bounce rate, customer satisfaction score, and willingness to refer your product.
  • Target audience - age, gender, socioeconomic status, family structure, preferences, pain points, etc.
  • Existing audience (if there is any), the way they use the product, the main touchpoints, standard user stories, how clients discover your product, and what they like or dislike about it.
  • Competitors - the number of direct and indirect competitors and what features and insights would you like to utilize from their products.
  • The required improvements or changes of any of the above.

The said questionnaire, along with the initial presentation and the NDA, is then sent to the client for review and preparation before the actual workshop takes place. During the said workshop, which can last at least an hour, even more, depending on the project complexity, our facilitator asks the questions and writes down the answers for the further analysis among our Merge team. After that, a proposal is made with the scope and time range for every next step.

Competitor analysis

The starting point of the competitor analysis is the information we have received from our clients in the previous workshop step. Then it’s time to elaborate on that. We first single out your 3 to 5 most important direct competitors and their best practices and evaluate what makes them stand out in the market.

To do that, we pick the most significant traits and features that make your potential clients choose your competitors over you and vice versa. The next step is to determine the weakest points of your competition and how to avoid them in your future product. We also look at your indirect competitors and those who will eventually become your competitors after you introduce certain products, services, or features.

Our team then compiles everything we’ve gathered and evaluated into a report with a summary of every competitor, features that set them apart, and their pros and cons with specific recommendations for your project.

UX audit

It is a truth universally acknowledged among UX/UI designers that a well-done professional UX audit is one of the best ways to find out what exactly your digital product is lacking in terms of user experience and usability.

During the UX audit step, our team evaluates the entire user flow of your app or product. We identify the weak points, inconsistencies, and other questionable solutions we have discovered. Afterward, we compile our findings into a comprehensive report, which is then used during the next step.

We mainly perform the UX audit when we redesign your product, but some aspects of it do get transferred into the pre-design phase of a totally new project as well.

For a new product we design from scratch, instead of an audit, we focus on user personas, customer journeys, and clearly defined business goals and objectives before we move on to ideation.

Elisabeth Gudzenko, Head of Design at Merge Development

To learn more about the UX audit process and how to successfully perform one yourself, check out our easily downloadable e-book on this exact topic:

How to Do a Website UX Audit

Get the e-Book

Basic ideation

With the competitor analysis and UX audit done, we proceed with the basic ideation step, where we create numerous hypotheses to improve your existing product or create outlines for a new one based on our previous actions.

Some of the ideation techniques we use are the standard quick brainstorming sessions, initial sketches, wireframes, and paper prototypes, visual storyboards that help conjure up a picture for each problem, and also numerous alternative creative methods that our team members can come up with.

The key to successful ideation is to provide as many suggestions and solutions as quickly as possible with the information we possess at this stage. In the ideation process for an already existing product, we also try to answer the following two questions:

  1. What feature or product attribute is the most helpful to the customers when they use the product?
  2. What holds users back when using the product as a whole or a particular feature?

We then sort newly found problems into clusters for a better understanding and visualization and rank them based on their severity, urgency, and impact.

Backlog list

As a result, we produce a backlog list with tasks, bugs, updates, and new features for the product. A backlog is a structured and systematized to-do list of necessary design and development duties and items our team needs to complete to successfully finish and deliver your product.

Over a short period of time, all the tasks get transformed from rough and a bit fuzzy into much more specific pieces of project instructions. We use everything we’ve accumulated in the previous steps, from business objectives to user stories, in order to get a well-defined outline.

We then create a complete product roadmap with the design and development scope and a potential risks plan. The risk plan is made to minimize design and development’s possible pitfalls and uncertainties before we move on to the next step - the actual design.

TL;DR

If you scrolled down just to read a quick summary, then here it is. As a professional and dependable UX/UI design and development agency, we pride ourselves on meticulous research of any of our projects instead of just plunging into the process without feeling and knowing where we are headed and why.

Our 5-step product UX discovery phase begins with the stakeholder workshop, where we try to gather as much information as possible about the future product (or existing one if we’re redesigning). Our primary focus is a “company-users-competitors” triangle that, in our opinion, is the backbone of any digital product and solution.

The next step is centered around direct and indirect competition and the analysis of their best and weakest points. After that, we focus on the UX aspect of your product - user flows, desired features, pain points, possible inconsistencies in the previous products, etc. All of the above helps us with the last two steps of the discovery process - the basic ideation and backlog list, where insights and planning happen.

Sergey Gyluyk

Head of Growth

Head of Growth and Customer Success. I'm interested in design, new tech, fashion, exploring new places and languages. My mission is to make our clients happy.

Head of Growth and Customer Success. I'm interested in design, new tech, fashion, exploring new places and languages. My mission is to make our clients happy.

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