What You Need to Know

Two Pivotal Phases Of Website Design

By Jessy Smulski | Apr 12, 2018

Is your digital agency missing the mark on the two most important phases of the web design and development process? If you have no idea what discovery and information architecture entails -- the answer is yes. How do I know? Because as the site owner, you are an influential part of these phases.

Without strategic focus on the discovery phase and the information architecture phase of your website project, you might as well be constructing a house with no blue print, or assembling an Ikea furniture set with no instructions. Not. Going. To. Happen. At least not very well. Discovery and information architecture is the brick and mortar supporting your online business goals. The right digital agency will spend a ton of time up front on these phases to make certain they maximize the value of your investment. Here’s your quick “need to know” about each phase:



Your website is your organization’s greatest marketing and sales tool. For it to perform as such, every detail must align with your target audience and business goals.

Pro insight: Website visitors form an opinion about your site and brand within .5 seconds of landing on a page. At this point, you have 10 seconds to leave an impression and explain how your brand is their solution.

During the discovery phase of the web design and development process, you and your digital agency should brainstorm and compile a mega list of all information and function that must be included inside the walls of your website. A good digital agency will spend plenty of time and effort learning more about what your organization does, how it does it, and why. A great digital agency will also challenge you to think critically about who your target audience is and how your website fits into their wants and needs. Discovery should be accompanied by a questionnaire or scheduled chit-chat to discuss:

  • Brand identity
  • Industry overview
  • Target audience persona
  • Specific project requirements
  • Expected outcome
  • Necessary features and functions required of the website
  • End user experience
  • Competitive edge

Additionally, in-depth research should be done on your industry, audience, and competitors to determine:

  • Which keywords and phrases resonate best with the target audience
  • What solutions your website can provide to the target audience
  • Whom your closest competitors are and what their strategy is
  • Which websites you like/dislike and why

Once the basics are hammered out, you and your digital agency should identify what technical components and supportive services are critical to the website’s function.


Information Architecture

At the conclusion of discovery, you and your digital agency should be standing on top of a mound of data. Information architecture involves structuring that data in a way that will make sense to your visitors. Let me repeat -- your visitors (not you). Each time a potential customer visits your website in search of something, they must be able to find it within seconds. If they can’t, they will leave. To structure your information correctly, you and your digital agency must relentlessly look at the information from the audience’s point of view. Information architecture should also strategically guide visitors to a next step. Lead them deliberately through the pages of your website and, ideally, to a strong call-to-action.

Start by considering what questions your website visitor will ask upon arrival:

  • Is this the correct place?
  • Will I find the information I’m searching for here?
  • Will I find other helpful information here?
  • What should I do next?

Next, you and your digital agency should compartmentalize, organize and optimize! Here are some basic steps commonly used to get this phase from information overload to soundly structured:

  1. Take inventory. Get all information laid out in a way that makes it more palatable, like a spreadsheet. Create groups and connections between each piece of information to develop how content will be organized and connected within the website.
  2. Decide on orientation. What will the container for all this data look like? A virtual community won’t be designed the same as an e-commerce website that showcases products or an informational website that aims to educate like a brochure.
  3. Wireframe development. At this point, your designer should bring content and orientation together to form a black and white framing of your website; void of all color and design. The purpose of the wireframe is to illustrate where content will live and how the site will function without distracting images or color.

Pro Insight: Spend quality, focused time with the wireframe before your website moves on to design and development phases. Certain changes beyond this point will likely impact the scope of the project and require an increase in time and/or budget.

To make certain this step in the process receives the TLC it deserves, ask someone who is not closely tied to your business (a colleague, friend, or family member) to surf the wireframe. Monitor their interactions and note how they move from page to page. Do they find information easily? Are they lead to a next step?

The most important rule to remember about discovery and information architecture is that it should be based on fact, not opinion. Save your color palette preferences for another time; this is about finding out what your audience cares about and how your site can accommodate their wants to earn extra eyeball time. If your digital agency isn’t guiding you through a web design and development process as detailed and introspective as this -- raise a red flag. These phases are non-negotiable and heavy influencers over how successful your website will be.


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The Author

Jessy Smulski

Jessy turns industry shop-talk into simple, insightful, humanized conversation. Often described as bold, empathetic, and charmingly sarcastic; her writing style reflects her personality and reads like a friend telling stories over supper. When she isn’t writing, you can find Jessy backpacking the midwest, snowboarding the rockies, or capturing life through the lens of her camera.