How discovery informed selective mutism content

Claire McGinn, Content Designer

A magnifying glass is held over the word 'discovery' which is written in capital letters on a blank white sheet, lying on a board.

A speech and language therapist - on behalf of a selective mutism special interest group - requested we design a new guide on selective mutism for the Health A-Z. 

Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder that presents as an intense fear of speaking. It mainly affects children and while an average of one child in every primary school has selective mutism, general awareness of the condition is low. 

After reviewing the request and determining that this was content we should have on our site, a small team met up to begin the planning process. 

On a large blank sheet, our project lead wrote:

Selective mutism 

  • who are our users?
  • what are their needs?

Discovery begins 

Discovery is a phase in content design that is done before content is drafted. It is a way of finding out more about what an audience needs. It equips content teams with the evidence they need to make user-centred decisions. 

Our main discovery goals were to define our audience and identify the kinds of information they were looking for.

We planned to achieve these goals through:

  • user research and online search term reports 
  • interviews with stakeholders and users, including parents of children with selective mutism
  • desk research including Google Trends data and analysis of competitor websites  
  • reviewing source content provided by the NHS 

Producing the evidence

The UX team produced reports on selective mutism searches, highlighting:

  • the most popular search terms
  • average number of searches each month
  • where users were getting their information

We used these reports to drill down and get a clear understanding of the language our audience was using, their emotions and what they were looking for.

Interviews with stakeholders and users 

We were fortunate to have the input of the committed group of stakeholders who had requested the guide. The group included speech and language therapists and an educational psychologist, all of whom worked in the area of selective mutism. We explained our discovery processes and had immediate buy-in.

We set up one-to-one interviews with each of them, getting their insights into selective mutism and gathering their collective knowledge on the condition. 

We also interviewed parents of children with selective mutism - asking them about their experiences and their journey through diagnosis, treatment and beyond. 

We talked to people unfamiliar with selective mutism - explaining the condition and asking them what actions they might take if they thought their child had it.

Desk research and analysis of competitor websites 

We trawled through several reputable websites. We took copious notes - comparing how groups of selective mutism topics were treated. 

We looked at Google Trends, mapping online behaviours and patterns around selective mutism. We listened to podcasts and watched videos, some recommended to us by our stakeholders and others found on trusted websites. We looked at frequently asked questions and topics related to selective mutism searches. We waded through social media posts and forums.

And we picked the brains of our digital colleagues.

Review of NHS content

We went through the NHS selective mutism content with a proverbial fine-tooth comb. The stakeholders had explained how services and treatment in the UK were different to services and treatment in Ireland. Nonetheless, the NHS gave plenty of good insights that would help inform our content. 

Organising the evidence

Back at the ranch, we set up a Figma discovery board with our lorry load of research. We began sifting through the findings. 

As we isolated quotations from interviews and pulled data from the reports, broad themes began to emerge. We filed our findings into large categories - organising post-it notes into user stories and defining acceptance criteria for each. The user stories described our users, what they wanted and why. Our acceptance criteria set out what our content needed to do to help them.

Zoomed in section of a Figma board. It has the heading 'interview notes' in the top left corner. Purple circles have themes written in the centre and there are comments on coloured post-its clustered under each theme.

Above: Section of our Figma board: interview quotes are themed and grouped.

We continued to refine and filter, separating the very-useful from the not-so-useful, and the must-haves from the nice-to-haves. We double-checked data, and had report figures updated. We clarified comments made in interviews and ran ideas past colleagues. 

As we tweaked and modified the Figma board, a skeletal structure started to form. A vision of the guide was coming to life. 

Soon we had:

  • a clear sense of our users
  • banks of user needs
  • a roadmap for our guide

All we needed was a little meat on the bones and our discovery phase would be done.

Stakeholder invite

We called in the stakeholders and presented our findings and plans. We talked them through our Figma board, showing them where we had come from and where we were headed. We described the vision we now had for the content - the broad headings, the tone and the style we would use. 

We gathered their feedback, made notes and more tweaks. Together we transformed the content plan into the very best version of itself.

Key learnings

Discovery was an extensive process involving information gathering, data analysis, and conversations with experts. It helped us understand the kinds of information users were looking for and what the content should achieve. We discovered priority user needs. For example, parents wanted to know where to get help for a child struggling to speak. We worked with our stakeholders to define this process, making sure our content would be tailored for users in Ireland.

Positivity can power the process

The strength of our discovery was, to a large extent, down to the positivity of the people we worked with. While we crafted questions carefully to get as much as we could from interviews, we needn’t have worried. All were eager to give this amount, and much more. From their stories, we banked many user needs and built out our structures. 

Themes can prevent research overload

At times, the volume of raw material felt a little overwhelming. We found our way around this by grouping data and insights into themes. This helped us clear any clutter and organise our research. 

We carefully weaved user needs and stories into our page plans, plotting the way for informed content. The structures and design fell neatly into place.


Our investment in the discovery phase of selective mutism paid off handsomely.

One colleague said: “If discovery is done well, the writing looks after itself.” Never a truer word. With the groundwork complete, the foundations were laid for solid, reliable content.

Discovery paved the way for user-centred content that would be credible, authentic and trustworthy. It left us primed for writing an evidence-based guide tailored to an audience we got to know well. We understood their needs, their pain points and priorities. We knew their language.

With discovery done, we were ready to write.

Perhaps Abraham Lincoln was talking about discovery when he said:

"Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe."