DISCO, a novel low-energy beamline covering the spectrum range from the VUV to the visible, has received its first photons at the French synchrotron SOLEIL. In this article the DISCO design and concept of three experimental stations serving research communities in biology and chemistry are described. Emphasis has been put on high flux generation and preservation of polarization at variable energy resolutions. The three experiments include a completely new approach for microscopy and atmospheric pressure experiments as well as a ;classical' synchrotron radiation circular dichroism station. Preliminary tests of the optical design and technical concept have been made. Theoretical predictions of the beam have been compared with the first images produced by the first photons originating from the large-aperture bending-magnet source. Results are also reported concerning the cold finger used to absorb hard X-ray radiation in the central part of the synchrotron beam and to avoid heavy thermal load on the following optics. Wavelength selection using monochromators with different gratings for each experimental set-up as well as beam propagation and conditioning throughout the optical system are detailed. First photons comply very well with the theoretical calculations.