UX Design Process: Research & Discovery Workshop


The Discovery Phase is the first step in the UX process and where foundational user research occurs. The goal during this phase is to learn as much as possible about your client’s business, objectives, users and competitors.


Activities during this phase can include (but are not limited to):

  • Stakeholder Interviews
  • Focus Groups
  • Heuristic Evaluations
  • Card Sorting
  • Surveys
  • Personas
  • User Journeys
  • Analytics
  • Task Analysis
  • Ideation Workshop

The activities vary from project to project depending on the budget, scope and what methods are applicable to address the problem(s) being solved.

Research & Discovery’s Goal 

Our UX team recently conducted a 3-day Discovery Workshop for a client in the healthcare industry.

This business in particular was using an analog process for their clients’ paperwork (fax and email forms, paper documents that had to be filled out by hand, etc.). Because of this, we were tasked with finding a way to incorporate new technologies and improve (or create) the digital user experience.

Another challenge was to find a solution to their current portal design, which had been incrementally updated through the years. Due to the ad hoc nature of these past updates, the portal hadn’t been reviewed as a system in its entirety in a while. This was an important focus for us as incremental updates through the years can either break or disturb other services, stakeholders or processes within the same system.

Often the business (like our client) knows there’s an issue but can’t quite pinpoint where it is coming from or which pieces play a part in it. Our role in the Discovery Workshop then is to help them either redefine the problem or discover new ones, and present a fix that they may not have considered without the proper analysis.

By digging deep and asking the right questions, we are able to provide recommendations that will positively impact business expectations and aide in the decision-making process, as well as improve the user experience.

Goals of our 3-day Discovery Workshop:

  • Identify users;
  • Determine the business and user needs;
  • Uncover pain points for the business and users;
  • Bring together stakeholders to share their expertise;
  • Understand the user’s journey;
  • Define the project scope (based on our recommended solutions) and the level of impact vs. the level of effort each one would have/take;
  • Align business goals with the solutions presented.

For this process, we incorporated some of Google Venture’s Design Sprint process. A sprint can help shortcut the endless debate cycle across teams, which tends to be necessary in order to stay on track since the Discovery Phase –in this case, a 3-day workshop – was done in such a short period of time.

This workshop required a lot of preparation on our end and by making sure we adhered to the sprint process. Keeping the discussions succinct and purposeful made this phase of the workshop more effective in that it provided us a solid framework to work from, kept us on task, and thus enjoyable (and useful!) for everyone involved.

Starting with Data

After we aligned on the business goals (and before the actual workshop began), our team performed both quantitative and qualitative research on our client and their product.

Assessing customer surveys and chat logs gave us insight into the Voice of Customer (VOC) – their goals, expectations and frustrations.

To fill in the gaps we felt were missing, we also interviewed customer service representatives to help with the VOC, which further exposed the challenges faced by customers using the portal, as well as by the client’s internal teams.

By applying user behavior monitoring software to their portal and conducting a deep dive into Google Analytics, we were able to see where users were dropping off most frequently and which pages had the lowest traffic. A task analysis also revealed user flows, user goals and pain points in navigating the portal.

These findings gave us direction for the key parts of the portal to focus on; like information architecture (how the portal is structured) and discoverability (the ease with which people can find what they need).

This information helped us to prioritize our focus for the 3-day Discovery Workshop.

Measuring Your Audience

We invited eight stakeholders from our client’s business to participate in the workshop. Titles included:

  • Software Engineers
  • Project Managers for Software Engineers
  • Business Analyst
  • Lead Project Manager
  • Customer Service Lead/Representative
  • Developers
  • CTO

To make a sprint workshop successful, it’s important to have a mix of people; the key people who work with the product and experts with specific knowledge (e.g., systems analyst, developers).

From our team, we had two UX designers to co-facilitate the workshop, a user experience researcher, a director of business development and a project manager who kept track of time and took notes/photos.

We had a core team of participants who attended each day and others that came just for the exercises where their participation was most important.

Here’s a snapshot of what our 3-day Discovery Workshop looked like:

Uncover the Vision – Day 1

The goal of Day 1 was to set the long-term business goal, detect problem areas that could be addressed in the exercises, understand the customer journey (including their goals and frustrations) and lastly, to gain knowledge from internal experts in order to help guide us to the right focus areas.


  • Icebreakers – This was an excellent way to get people familiar with everyone else and loosen up.
  • Long-term Goal –Here we set the long-term goal. We asked the group questions like: Why do we have client portal? What problems does it solve today? What is the vision for the future? How will we measure success?
  • Open Questions – An exercise of turning potential problems into questions that will make it easier to answer with sketches in later exercises. We asked: What questions do we hope to answer together in the next few days?
  • Customer Map – We created a map of customer touch points, actions, and users. We focused on flows that were integral to user’s success and happiness within the portal. This helped us understand their goals and how they felt along each step of the way.
  • Ask the Experts – Quick 5 minutes “what we know” and Q&A of each expert representative, one at a time. Questions such as: What will make this project successful?, What’s our unique advantage or opportunity?, What’s the biggest risk?
  • Introduction to How Might We (HMW) Notes – Each person in the sprint wrote their own notes one at a time on a Post-It (in the form of a question “How Might We…?”) while listening to expert interviews and user research reviews. One example of a HMW note: How might we simplify notification’s dev effort?
  • Review and Wrap Up – We ended the day with reviewing key takeaways that helped recap and inform the next day’s exercises.

Key takeaway: There was a concern about staying in scope. Because of this, we decided to focus on just two areas for Day 2 – requesting portal access and the document submission process.

Brainstorming Solutions – Day 2


The goal of Day 2 was to explore inspiring examples of products and services, sketch solutions, and present and vote on solutions to inform the focus areas for priority in Day 3.

Demo Examples

  • Research for Lightning Demos – Everyone was asked to come with a list of products or services to review that they think serve as an inspiring solution to the problems discussed on Day 1 (we often ask them to think outside of industry). Each person had 20 minutes to research.

    For example, a solution to their privacy/permissions was to review Facebook and how they handle with their users.

    Another example was to explore Paychex‘s user interface for dashboard tiles and style ideas.

  • Lightning Demos (3-minutes each) – Participants shared with the team what was cool about their found solutions. What was the big idea? What might be useful? Our team recorded each solution/demo on the whiteboard so we could review after all demos were completed.

Sketching Solutions

  • Groups / Targets – Each group chose a focus area while looking at the HMW themes or sections of the customer journey map to be improved. Some of the sketch concepts that we wanted to target included: notifications, invite/add member modal and user profile dashboard.
  • Heat Map – After the presentation, everyone was given five stickers. They walked around and placed stickers on any solution they felt was most interesting or impactful to them, with the option to note questions on any focus area they were unsure of.
  • Review and Wrap Up – The team then reviewed “hot spot” areas (those with the most stickers) which introduced us to the theme for the final day of the workshop.

Key takeaways: Heat Map voting showed the most interest in Planned Outage Notices, Invite/Add Team Members, Notifications and Submission Progress Status. Also, consistency in UI across the portal was of high importance for several teams and individual stakeholders.

Prioritizing Tasks – Day 3 


The goal of Day 3 was to determine and prioritize the impact vs. effort of the solutions presented, as well as storyboard those solutions in order to expose any gaps we were missing. Last, was to review and revise the open questions from Day 1.

  • Impact vs. Effort – As a team we prioritized the solutions on a grid of low to high impact vs. low to high effort. We reminded the team that a feature’s Impact should always be related back to the high level mission and success metrics the business focuses on. The team then voted on Impact vs. Effort on a scale of 1-5 (5 =High and 1= Low). With devs in the room for this exercise, they were able to give input and help us scope the effort each solution would take.
  • Story Board – A grid was then drawn on the board with the customer touch points that we uncovered in our initial research and created the customer journey map from. These touch points included: Login/Request Status/Study Submission/Site Status/Download Approval Docs.
  • Story Board Input – Team members took notes on index cards as the storyboard flows were described. Each person then shared his or her notes and placed them on the related sections of the storyboard.

    Examples: “The landing page should address pain points uncovered in V1” and “ Global navigation should include our general library.”

  • Review Open Questions – To close the workshop, we reviewed any open questions that were outlined at the beginning of the workshop. Did they get answered in this session? What else do we need to do to answer them and who owns the process? Do our solutions point to the vision? Do we need to add / change anything? Are any solutions missing? This allowed the team to revisit and assign responsibility for addressing these issues. Example: How do we address both the power user and new users?

Key takeaway: We revised the long-term goal and defined the overall takeaways from the workshop for the portal redesign that would be most beneficial to the business and their customers. In the end, we delivered a report with a recommended roll out program, task by task then grouped them by phase 1, 2, 3.



The workshop was very successful. Everyone had fun, gained insight into the benefits of a Discovery Workshop and came to understand the importance of including stakeholders from different teams to participate.

These are the main questions we answered throughout the workshop:

  • Scope of the project that includes our new solutions and findings;
  • When and how to move into the next phase of the project;
  • The key stakeholders understanding and agreeing on the plan moving forward;
  • How to measure success;
  • What services are needed to complete the next steps (maybe we link to our process and call out design and dev).

These were the main deliverables in the report:

  • Long-term vision;
  • Next step recommendations for design;
  • Roll out recommendations by phase;
  • Areas with opportunity for improvement, perhaps those that had not been considered a problem prior to this activity;
  • Key questions;
  • Solutions presented on the Impact vs. Effort scale;
  • Recommened quick wins;
  • Workshop summary and artifacts document.