The second stage of the design process is known as the Discovery stage. During this stage, no matter what type of project you are working on or the extent of your knowledge on the topic, you will need to conduct some amount of research.

This doesn’t mean that you’ll have to spend days in the library searching archives and formulating long pages worth of findings. In simple terms the word research means to investigate systematically (in a consistent manner).

Types of research

Usually for a web project there are different types of research you need to conduct to ensure that you are meeting the needs of you client.

  • Research on the topic (the product/service or message of the client)
  • Research on the competition (what are others doing? )
  • Research on the target market (who are they and what do they expect?)
  • Research on current development and design trends (what’s new in web design?)

Topic Research

Let’s start with the first bullet on our list above. If you are building a website for a landscaping company but live in an apartment and have never gardened in your life, you might want to research the topic a bit.

The extent of this research doesn’t have to be much, just something to give you a better idea of what a landscaper does and who their target audience may be.

Research can be online, however, sometimes even a simple magazine on the topic might help give you a better understanding and spark ideas.

Competitor Research

Exploring the competitors websites is extremely helpful as it can:

  • Identify what type of information is already online
  • Provide ideas for design and layout
  • Offer insight to how such a site can be improved upon

Many times you can ask your client who their main competitors are. In some cases your client might be the only type of this organization in the area or in a niche market. In the latter case, you might need to look at similar companies on a broader base.

Let’s go back our Better Bean Coffee example. Let’s say that Better Bean Coffee is the only coffee shop in Java Town, so they have no direct competitors for miles. However, places like Starbucks, although not directly near them, are still a competitor in the idea that they sell the same product or type of product.

Another example is our niche market. Let’s say your client sells a custom strap for guitars and their really the only ones that make this product. While they have no real competitor, their product is an accessory for guitars. Therefore you might take a look at both guitars and musical instrument retailer’s websites.

Target Market Research

While we really need to have a good idea of our target market during the definition stage of the design process, during the discovery stage we may discover a other market factors or even a secondary market.

Researching competitors websites, for customer reviews is a good place to get an idea of your potential clients.

Conducting a search on product, service or message of the site could also provide you with blogs, forums and committees on the topic. Reading a few of these posts can provide more insight on just who the target market might be.

Development and Design Research

Depending on your client a lot of the previous research might be provided to you. However, as a web design/developer you will always need to conduct development and design research.

A few years ago it was popular to have a Flash splash screen. Basically an animated feature before entering a website. However, today many web users access the web through their smart phones. Slow connections, and Apple iPhone’s lack of support for Flash makes this feature pretty much worthless.

To ensure you are meeting the needs of your client and not doing extra work for no reason, web developer/designers need to keep up-to-date with current standard and trends.

Contiguous research on new technology, web standards and languages is imperative.

Design trends are also something that seems to change with the season. In the early 2000’s there was a move to more white space on the website, while today we see a move to more large scale photographic background images.

These design trends way heavily on the capabilities of the technology.

When choosing to implement or omit an element to the design of a website you need to provide justification to your client.

Explain to your client why the image they found on Google images can not be used on their website.

Cite sources as to why large typeface is effective for their site.

Don’t base your design for a site solely on design trends or just because you or the client likes it. Consider if it meets the expectations of your client’s target market as well as their technology limitations.

Documenting your Findings

The research you conduct for your projects often don’t need to be formal in any way. Most of the time you will be taking a few bullet notes regarding each.

This research can be simply put in your project notebook or shared with your team and client by formally typed in the creative brief.

When defending your design ideas it is often a good idea to cite some of your research points to help justify your choices to your client.

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