Shelley Bassett



Beginning Web Design - Build-Along Tutorial Series

Researching an Idea | Beginning Web Design

May 9, 2018

The first step in any design project is researching an idea, but sometimes this step can be really difficult. Once you know a few simple tricks, having all the information on hand

This tutorial is part of a larger series. You can find the other posts at here.

After establishing the brief and figuring out exactly what the client is after, it’s time to do some heavy duty research to establish our proposal for the client. Researching an idea is how we make sure that we’re creating not only a good, viable solution for the client, but also something new and creative that will contribute to the online community, rather than just copying someone else work.

Where to Start

The easiest way to begin this process is a simple Google search. For our client, we’re looking for websites that talk about Melbourne, specifically the theatres in the city. Trying keywords like “Melbourne” or “Melbourne Theatres” will get us some solid results, and we can see not only which theatres are in Melbourne, but what websites talking about them look like. Don’t just limit your results to the first page of Google though, and throw in different keywords to find a complete overview of results.

Google also has a nifty autocomplete function, and this can give us some insight into how users are searching and what keywords we should focus on.

Researching an Idea

In our search, we’re looking for a few different things. We need to know information for the site, how other sites are presenting it, and what users are actually looking for. Google is great for this information, as they have a dedicated focus on presenting information. In fact, my initial search for “Melbourne Theatres” triggered this handy little callout at the top of my results.

Google display of theatres in Melbourne

Google display of theatres in Melbourne

Thankfully, this client has chosen a project with lots of information. We can create a long list of options for our client to chose from.

Researching an idea also involves beginning to look at the design of the project. For our website, pages like Melbourne City Council, Melbourne Tourism and even Wikipedia are all great places to start. It can help to have all these sites open next to each other, and compare and contrast them to find a balance and direction for our own design. Write down your thoughts! There’s nothing worse than having a brainwave and not remembering it later.

Screenshot from City of Melbourne

City of Melbourne web page screen grab

Screenshot from Only Melbourne

Only Melbourne web page screen grab

Screenshot from Wikipedia

Wikipedia web page screen grab




Looking at sites like this brings obvious similarities and differences to our attention. Look at how information is presented, the colours used and the size and spacing of elements. If there’s a comments section, read through it to get a better idea of what users are actually looking for! There’s not much point to a site that doesn’t present useful information.

Alternative Methods

Research isn’t just reserved to searching for things on the internet. You could also go into the community and conduct a survey. Looking at different user groups will also help to create a more well-rounded picture of who is using our product. Ask thoughtful questions, and listen to the comments between their responses. The questions you ask will have some bias towards your own ideas and expectations. The answers you receive, and the throwaway comments between them, will tell you so much more.

Forums and online groups are also a useful place to both ask questions or read through previous questions. It might help to narrow down a broad topic to a smaller, but more ask about, idea. Researching an idea is about throwing out our own assumptions and looking at what is actually wanted and needed.

Summing up our findings

You may want to be really in-depth with your research, or you may only need a quick glance at the surface of what’s being presented. In researching an idea about Melbourne theatres, it seems that the top sites on Google have a lot of similarities. They tend to present information as a list, with a little bit of historical data and a link to the current show. Images don’t seem to have been as important, which will help our site to stand out. The client expressed an interest in night-photography, but the featured images on Google have been taken at a variety of different times. This will be something to consider during our proposal.

Any research you conduct will also be helpful in the client proposal. While most of this should focus on the direction we see the project taking, it’s important the client understands both how we decided on this direction, as well as what the current market looks like. A good client will have already conducted some of their own research, but it’s good practice to show that we also care deeply enough about the issue that we’re willing to invest our time in every aspect.

Research could be presented in a number of ways. I included some screenshots of current sights, but we could also include elements like target audience, demographics, feel, and uses. It might also be nice to show common graphic or UI (user interface) elements. Think of researching like creating a mood board of knowledge!