UX Discovery: Solid foundation for your user-centric digital product

UX Discovery text shown like in a cell phone design
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UX Discovery: What is it and why is it important?

“A discovery is a preliminary phase in the UX-design process that involves researching the problem space, framing the problem(s) to be solved, and gathering enough evidence and initial direction on what to do next. Discoveries do not involve testing hypotheses or solutions.”


Many clients come to custom software development companies with an idea that they want to transform into a digital product, and probably they have an idea of some features, some problems they want to solve for the user, etc. 

However, many times this is not enough or is not correct. Plenty of projects introduced to us are based on assumptions, on what the project sponsor within the company thinks is relevant for their users, or has a significant impact on customer experience or usability. 

And we all know it is not what we think but what the final user says or indicates.

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So, you could focus the project on the wrong problem to be solved to improve the customer experience, or you could be ignoring additional issues or opportunities to create a WOW experience with your digital product.

On top of that, in many cases there are many stakeholders, with different approaches and perspectives, so trying to get to the final vision to be addressed with the design and further development is not easy, and again you can fall into subjectivities.

Last, but not least, many companies don’t have a UX or Research team so they approach their IT team with their needs and then everything is focused on technical aspects and the UX is not considered as it should be.

Coding errors vs requirement errors

Men sitting on chair coding on their computers
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Just 10% of the errors in software projects are coding errors. Were you aware of it?

More than half of the errors come from requirements, which means from the early stages of a project.

Is this surprising for you?

I guess not after what we have discussed before in terms of clients’ constraints and misunderstandings.

But this should not be surprising either, because it is unfeasible for companies to have expertise in everything. 

So many times this implies they just skip those activities they cannot handle due to lack of knowledge and resources.

No need to say this is a huge mistake!

That’s why companies such as Switch Software exist and you can outsource those UX Discovery activities, to validate and discard assumptions, and then bring the data and insights to the team to be incorporated to the project

Would you save money on your house’s foundations?

I guess not! As you know, everything being built will lay on them, and poor foundations would put everything else at risk.

Everything to be considered, the design, prototypes, code to be written, and even testing will be based on and impacted by the initial vision and requirements.

So, why should we think differently about custom software development?

Investing in UX Discovery will allow you to reduce the risks, explore and consider opportunities that were not in your original scope (because you had not the expertise to discover them), and reduce costs associated with changes to be made to the product already after deployment.

rich-people-keeping-cash-clocks-piggy- UX Dicovery reduces costs
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Do you know how much it costs to change something that is already released? 

The worst possible scenario is an error introduced at the beginning of the project and detected once it has been delivered.

We are talking about errors in taking requirements that are detected after being in production.

 An article by NASA, makes an in-depth study of the cost of errors depending on the moment in which they are detected. The figures shown are enough to freak out!

  • A software bug detected at the end of the project is approximately 100 times more expensive than one detected during requirements gathering.
  • A software bug detected in production can be up to 1,000 times more expensive than one detected during requirements gathering.

Working with Agile Methodologies, such as Scrum, reduces significantly the chance to detect errors after finalizing the whole project and you can pivot and consider changes within it.

However, it could be even too late, not affordable for the remaining budget, or not achievable within the timing for the go-to-market.

What is more, probably work was done and resources were assigned to something that perhaps was not necessary.

With those numbers above, it is well worth investing in Discovery a small part of the project budget (it is much more accessible than you might think) and having those insights as early as possible.

UX Discovery: what should we get?

man-wearing-blue-dress-shirt-facing-whiteboard checking UX Discovery insights
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  • Understand where we are, the current situation and context: business objectives and expectations, user expectations, best practices from industry and competitors.

It applies to products to be developed from scratch as well as projects that imply improving an existing product that is not working as expected or needs to be updated with new features, best practices, etc.

The main difference is that having an existing product allows you to find out its current weaknesses and strengths, work on the first ones, and leverage new development on current strengths.

  • Agree on the shared vision of the product to be developed: this is key to setting up a common vision on what should be prioritized and considered on project scope and what will be considered for upcoming projects or phases or within a continuous development way of working.

The design and development phase will be based on it; so if clearly defined and agreed you should avoid many reprocesses or even reduce time dedicated to discussing the project scope or trying to negotiate new features within a sprint.

We all know this is very common when working with a fixed price in a software factory project, and it is a source of friction between client and supplier as well as a source of delays that often significantly impacts the project delivery.

With Discovery as part of the custom software development cycle, once you have the report shared with the client you can identify if you are on track or if changes to the project scope have to be done. After this checkpoint, the process should be smoother going forward.

If you are still one of those wondering if it makes sense to “waste” time in a Discovery, just re-read the above, as jumping right into the Design and Development could imply ultimately bigger delays (within many other drawbacks).

Who should be involved in a Discovery?

In most cases, our UX Discovery Research is planned and led by UX/UI Lead, supported by a Senior UX designer to carry out the research and prepare the final report.

The Project Manager and the development team are involved as well to contribute with ideas (with helps a lot to iterate) and to soak up information.

From client-side different stakeholders should be involved: project sponsor, IT/Digital transformation team, Marketing & Sales teams (if the project is related to their clients), etc.

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In a nutshell, we should identify all the key players for the project and bring them into the project to consider all perspectives, requirements, and expectations from the beginning.

Last, the luxury guest, the one that cannot be missed: users!

Final users have to be available for the research, regardless of being internal users or our client´s customers, as everything we will be creating will be addressed to them, so we need to ensure we are mainly relieving their pain points, meeting their expectations, understanding their journey, etc.

UX Discovery Techniques & Outputs

Which technique to be used could depend on each project, the complexity, its goals, decision-makers involved, company size, etc..

There are many UX Discovery techniques, but we will go over the ones we use more frequently. However, we can include additional ones when needed according to each project.

Person holding pink post it with one of the UX Discovery tools
Photo by David Travis on Unsplash

Interviews with stakeholders: as explained above, all the key players should be involved to consider their needs, perspectives, and expectations; this will reduce significantly the changes or amendments to be done during the design or development phase. 

In addition, they will provide a better understanding of business objectives, existing data or insights, feedback on prior experiences, as well as constraints.

However, somehow there should be one referent within the client, as the one deciding when there is no consensus, to be able to define in regards to features, refinements, etc.

Interview with potential users (One to one, focus groups, etc): regardless if those are final clients or users within the client organization you need to talk with them and ask them generic and other more specific questions, to understand their usage (with an existing product or similar ones).

This will allow a better understanding of the context of use, users’ motivation, and emotions during their journey, which are key factors to understanding what they think and how they will use and interact with the product.

Competitors Benchmarking: Implies analyzing main competitors and the industry to find out their weaknesses and strengths, their advantages and disadvantages, and take note of market trends, best practices, or outstanding experiences. Is not copying, is getting inspired and making informed decisions about the product and design strategy.

Heuristics review: Usability analysis on the current clients’ website, applications, etc.. under Nielsen laws to identify weaknesses and strengths.

It applies just in those cases where there is currently a solution implemented that the client is willing to improve or update.

User Persona: These are fictional characters that on average consist of a picture, name, occupation information, demographics, a personal story, pain points, and challenges.

Are created based upon the research to represent the different user types that might use the product, site, app, etc. similarly. 

Creating those user personas will help understand your users’ needs, experiences, behaviors, and goals. It makes it possible to discover what is necessary or unnecessary for them from a user-centered point of view. 

Data analysis: If there is already a digital product in place having access to all the data the client has in terms of accessibility, usability, analytics,  etc. is key to understanding current usage, pain points, and current issues affecting the Customer experience, etc..

Flowchart design: Those are diagrams that display the complete path a user takes when using a product. User flow mapping allows UX professionals to evaluate and optimize the user experience, and thereby increase customer conversion rates. How?

By deeply understanding the user’s movement through the product, mapping out each and every step the user takes, the product can be designed or redesigned accordingly to be perfectly optimized for the target user.

Usability testing: Is based on the observation and analysis of how a real user uses the application/functionality, taking notes of the usage problems they encounter in order to solve them later. Usability testing helps to uncover problems, discover opportunities, and learn about users.

At the discovery phase we perform the testing only on our competitors’ products, or when the project involves an existing product that needs to be redesigned.

Afterwards, when having a prototype or a new feature to be released to production, it is performed again to uncover problems with the proposal and consider any improvement in order to enhance user experience.

The final output of the Discovery process is a report to be shared with the client and project team with some ideas, insights, that are key supplies for ideation, prototyping, and development phases.

Let’s go

When the UX Discovery Phase comes to an end we all, clients and software development companies,  are much more confident that we know better who the users are, what they need, desire, and value from that kind of solution.

Working aligned with those insights will ensure we can develop the best software solution for each client. 

If you have an idea to be transformed into a software solution, but there are still many unknowns that stop you from moving forward, we can help you with a Discovery Phase.

Bear in mind that Discovery is currently part of our custom software development cycle, so even if you think you have quite a clear idea of what you need we will be able to refine it with UX Discovery.

A good UX discovery helps bridge the gap between a concept or idea and the software developed, guaranteeing that it will add value to your users and uncover successful outcomes for your organization by addressing the right problem in the proper context.

Despite it, if you are yet trying to understand what you need you can count on us for UX Discovery as a stand-alone service.

Sometimes, we end the Discovery Phase to realize that there is no need to continue with the particular project or that the project scope should be changed, cause there is no need from a user’s perspective for something that was considered in the solution, or new opportunities arose that should be prioritized.

But even in those cases, as a tech partner, we need to be transparent and work together on the next steps to ensure the final solution is the proper solution to positively impact your business and maximize ROI.

We work each project as our own, and if it were our project we would like to know if what we had in mind is not going to work to iterate and quickly redirect the project to the proper direction. Don’t you?

Willing to know further on our UX Discovery process? Looking for a tech partner to help you design interfaces and experiences that seamlessly achieve the needs of your target users? Give us a shot!


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