Background: A discrete choice experiment (DCE) is a method used to elicit participants' preferences and the relative importance of different attributes and levels within a decision-making process. DCEs have become popular in healthcare; however, approaches to identify the attributes/levels influencing a decision of interest and to selection methods for their inclusion in a DCE are under-reported. Our objectives were: to explore the development process used to select/present attributes/levels from the identified range that may be influential; to describe a systematic and rigorous development process for design of a DCE in the context of thrombolytic therapy for acute stroke; and, to discuss the advantages of our five-stage approach to enhance current guidance for developing DCEs. Methods: A five-stage DCE development process was undertaken. Methods employed included literature review, qualitative analysis of interview and ethnographic data, expert panel discussions, a quantitative structured prioritisation (ranking) exercise and pilot testing of the DCE using a 'think aloud' approach. Results: The five-stage process reported helped to reduce the list of 22 initial patient-related factors to a final set of nine variable factors and six fixed factors for inclusion in a testable DCE using a vignette model of presentation. Conclusions: In order for the data and conclusions generated by DCEs to be deemed valid, it is crucial that the methods of design and development are documented and reported. This paper has detailed a rigorous and systematic approach to DCE development which may be useful to researchers seeking to establish methods for reducing and prioritising attributes for inclusion in future DCEs.