Make discovery truly revealing: Steve Fisher and Alaine Mackenzie

Make discovery truly revealing: Steve Fisher and Alaine Mackenzie

The process for responsive web design projects is neatly laid out — but sometimes the upfront discovery process has to be allowed to be messy in order to be successful. That was the message of Steve Fisher and Alaine Mackenzie, a user experience designer and content strategist from Yellow Pencil who presented “Responsive Web Projects: How to Plan a Successful Discovery Process” during Confab 2013.

Steve and Alaine spoke about the responsive website project on which they collaborated for the city of Surrey, a large suburb of Vancouver. As they began their discovery, their ultimate goal was the find the “why” — which often gets hidden behind the “how” and the “what” in website requirements-gathering. “Hardly any companies or individuals understand their why,” says Steve.

As teams embark on a large and complex responsive project, “people want to have it defined and linear,” the presenters said. “Everyone wants to find the perfect process and have it laid out in a nice, linear way – so we can lay out a linear vision that we follow to a large extent.”

But that’s not how discovery actually works, said Steve and Alaine. “It’s iterative. You find things out and go back and do them over again … Discovery is about finding out where you’re wrong.” The important thing when design a responsive process is creating interdisciplinary teams and creating “an environment for unplanned moments of discovery.” Some ways the team learned to be successful during the Surrey project:

  • They kicked off the meeting by talking about vision instead of deliverables. They conceived the vision by the entire team, sitting in a room together, then posted this vision on a website so everybody could see it.
  • They collaboratively sketched out project needs and priorities.
  • They picked up the phone to talk to each other instead of hiding behind email.
  • They audited everything to discover things they wouldn’t have found otherwise, and they noted risks and gaps in a matrix.
  • They created accurate mental models by going out in the field and talking to people. They were able to map user experience empathetically by talking to users, and workflow by talking to the content creators, to discover things they wouldn’t have been able to guess or assume. They looked for trends but also made sure individual voices were heard.

Ultimately, the team learned they have to be willing to adapt as they discover new things. “Being wrong usually means you’ve discovered something new – and this is a good thing,” say Steve and Alaine. “Real discovery happens between the planned activities” such as interviews and audits. Don’t stop discovering, and let the discovery inspire you. 

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