How to know that your design project is going to fail before you even begin

Demystifying project design success

Adaberemchi Aja-Onu

It's great when you are beginning a project, and you feel like all is well with the world. The sun is shining; birds are singing everything is working out well. You begin the process of planning out your projects by yourself. Then you reach out to a designer or a design company and tell them," this is what I want, how much is it?" Well, I can say to you for free that if that design company or Designer goes ahead and takes your money and produces what you told them to design, your project is going to have a 90% failure rate.


I know you're optimistic that your project is going to be as big as Google or Facebook, but without one crucial process in place, your project is most likely going to end up on the trash heap of many failures to have come after these successful ideas.

The one ingredient that is missing is a Strategy Session. This is not just a fancy word coined by IT specialists to get you to pay more money. It's similar to what happens when you visit a doctor. The Doctor will only prescribe medication and treatment to you after a consultation. This is the same as a strategy session in the Design and Tech Industry. 

Imagine if you felt pain in your chest and you decided to go and see a doctor. You walk into the office and say," Doctor, I feel pain in my chest, and I believe I need open heart surgery to fix this." If he agrees, what would you think about that Doctor? If you showed up for the procedure, you must not love your life very much. The fact is any doctor who treats any self-diagnosed case should be charged with malpractice. Medical students are taught that the very first step in treatment is the Case History and has to be taken during Consultation and is where predisposing factors and different diseases or conditions are determined while the Doctor consults with the patient. 

Every design company and consultant must have a Case History session with new clients. This is what we call Discovery. This is where we are introduced to the client's needs, their vision for running the project, and the rationale for creating the solution they want you to design. This is where the Professional comes in and advises on the best course of action to bring the idea to life. Usually, a lot of people prefer to come to the Designer, present the project concept, and wait for the Designer for a bill. This is a recipe for failure. This is why thousands of ideas that have been generated fail. In my career, I have met many clients who either don't want a Discovery Session or want one for free.

The Discovery Session is a critical stage of every design project. This is where bad ideas or harmful components of the concept are tossed out, and the idea is refined to its most essential features. At this phase, you're able to improve the idea and the budget needed to cause the idea to come to life. Not engaging in a discovery session puts the project at risk. Many times the project leaps forward and then at the final stages of the projects it is discovered that vital elements were left out because there was no Discovery Session where this would have been identified, and the team frantically tries to build these elements into an almost finished project. This always costs more and many times, the client is tapped out on the budget and cannot afford to pay more. At the same time, the designers can't work for free. This is the point where many projects stall and eventually, collapse.

I've summarized the three key benefits of running a discovery session click here to read about it.

You find Discovery Sessions refines the idea of the projects, reduces the chance of spending much more on the project, and it manages expectations so that the client's expectations are apparent.

I believe it's smart not to self diagnose and recommend you get in a discovery session before you pay a designer to start the project. 

Some of us have been to hospitals where we consulted the Doctor, and he diagnosed the problem but wasn't the one to administer the treatment. Most doctors who care about the well-being of their patients would refer them to specialists who will be able to treat their cases. This is what specialists in the design industry should do as well. They should be able to run discovery sessions and if in the course of the discovery session on specific aspects of the idea or even the entire idea outside their area of specialization, they should refer the clients to a design shop that can actually give them what they need. A strategy session should end with the handover of a brief or document that outlines what the discovery session unveiled. In the medical field, the Doctor would send case history files to the specialist to which the patient is referred. This level of collaboration should exist in the design and technology industry. 


So what do you think? Is a discovery session essential to make sure you succeed at bringing your idea to pass?