The discovery session is where we figure that out, together.

As the first step of your new project, the website discovery session is a meeting between your internal team (the “website owner”) and your chosen designers and/or developers (the “website team”). We call this meeting the “discovery session” because it’s where the answers to the following key questions are discovered:

  1. What is the biggest problem your business needs to have solved?
  2. How will this website help solve that problem?
  3. What information is important to website visitors?
  4. Who are those visitors?

They answers to these key questions will guide every decision made during the design and build of the website.

What’s important to answering those key questions?

Knowing what pieces of information to give the highest priority is what really keeps a discovery session—and the resulting website—on target with your broader goals.

First, let’s break down the essential items to bring to your website discovery session.

These are the pieces of information that, if not readily available, will delay the work:

  • Your logo as a vector file. This means an .eps, .pdf, or at least the very largest size .png, .gif, or .jpg you can get your hands on. These would need to be provided digitally, so either email, Dropbox, or Hightail them over either before or immediately following the discovery session.
  • An idea of who your customers are and/or who you want them to be. Knowing who your customers are currently helps us put together a target audience profile. This allows design and functionality decisions to be made based on who is likely to buy your product or service.
  • Login profiles to your website (if you currently own one). This includes access to your site’s hosting account, FTP server, and content management system (e.g. WordPress). These are not usually used immediately on a new website project, however there will reach a point when they will be necessary to move forward. Having them ready to go up front keeps things moving smoothly.
  • A brief description of the problem as you know it. If you don’t currently have a website, then an explanation of why you feel you need one would work. Include specific examples of how the website will fit into your overall marketing plan, and what you expect visitors to be able to do or take away from the website.
  • The URL of your current website, if you own one. This may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s been known to be overlooked. If you don’t own one, we’ll take a look at common sense options for your company based on what is available.
  • All content you plan to put on your website, even if it is just an outline. One of the biggest sources of delay on a website project is not knowing the scope of the content at the beginning. It’s OK to not have all your content ready to publish at the time of the discovery session, but knowing exactly what types of information you want to include will help us come up with a logical way of organizing it.
  • Contact information. If you are the point of contact as the website owner, then that makes things simple. If not, having the right contact information connects the right people together with minimal rerouting.
  • Schedule and availability. Both of us should have our calendars readily available to make sure we make the best use of the time we have. Vacations, conferences, meetings, etc. should all be disclosed so that important review periods or additional meetings are not scheduled when someone is unavailable.

In addition to the essential, there are helpful items to bring to your website discovery session.

These provide further insight into your company and audience and can give your project a leg up in finding the right solution:

  • Access to your website analytics, if you have them. Knowing there is a problem with your existing website is one thing, but knowing specifically what it is can sometimes be another. Providing access to your Google Analytics account allows us to dive in and take a look at how your site is performing from a fresh perspective. It will also help confirm any existing problems you feel you have, or pinpoint trouble areas you might not be fully aware of.
  • Examples of your current marketing. Branded emails, advertising, social media pages, graphics, manuals and white papers, etc. are all helpful to make sure your website is familiar to your audience when it launches.
  • Examples of competitor’s marketing. Knowing who you need to stand out against helps drive design decisions away from looking too similar to your competitor. 
  • Examples of websites you like. This is an opportunity to break the ice. Odds are, your website will not look like any of your favorite websites currently online, but bringing a list of URLs acts as a starting point to begin discussions and critiques about why specific things will or will not work for your audience. This approach also allows us to discuss ideas that may be difficult to picture using words alone.
  • Colors and font names that are essential to your brand. These can usually be gleaned from your logo or existing marketing materials, but having them ready up front helps speed things up.

Is there anything that shouldn’t be brought to the website discovery session?

Information and goals are ideal to share at the start of a website project. Brand standards help steer the end result to a familiar solution for your audience. Based on the lists above, it seems like there is no way to overshare before the project gets underway, or is there?

In reality, there are a few things that are best to leave at the door when stepping in to the website discovery session. These include:

  • Design restrictions that are unrelated to the brand. It is hard to keep personal preference out of the meeting when the conversation turns to colors, fonts, and image selection. At the same time, placing too many restrictions at the start of the project can rule out the best solution before work has even begun. Provided the ideas being explored are in the best interest of the brand, it is generally a good idea to keep an open mind before settling too firmly in a specific direction.
  • Extra opinions. Feedback is essential to keeping the project moving forward toward the best solution. This includes feedback from the website owner, stakeholders, and potential or actual target audience members. Anyone not falling in one of these categories should not be included in formal discussions.
  • Additional, upcoming, or ongoing projects. The discovery session is not an overview meeting to discuss any other projects that you may be engaged in.