Let us assume that an individual just started freelancing as a UI/ UX Designer. They have also booked their first client! However, the designer is not familiar with the client platform or even the overall industry. In such cases, a designer may struggle to build from scratch without proper research.
A good practice in this situation, even for seasoned designers, is to conduct Competitor Analysis. Employing this fundamental UX design technique enables the development of a solid foundation for the design. It also helps us understand your final product as well as your end users. We are able to set forth quantifiable design goals, which is critical to any marketable design. You, our customer, will also view a platform that follows an established industry standard, yet it eliminated the flaws in existing products while building on their strengths. Lastly, a good analysis helps us identify flaws in existing products. These insights will ultimately result in a design that is of superior quality and give you a platform that provides your end users with the best experience and the least interactive effort.
First and foremost, we identify the project’s problem statement. Subsequently, we note challenges faced by any existing models or potential challenges in absence of one. For convenience, let us assume that the project is a website that offers training services. Now, we start looking at existing websites in production that offer these services (or similar ones). A good rule of thumb that we employ is to select around three to four websites for each challenge that we identify.
Our first step is to take as many screenshots across different user platforms (i.e. desktop, mobile etc.). We take at least 2 screenshots per user platform for each competitor website we have identified for every challenge.
Next, we make notes of our observations for EVERY screenshot taken in the first step. A suggested format would be a pros and cons table that notes both strengths and weaknesses in the competitor's approach.
Lastly, we use these notes to develop an overall idea of what the project would resemble, with potential design changes from existing standards that would improve your user interaction. This sets up a solid foundation on which we would then start designing the website.
Do's and Don'ts
Do consider each existing feature’s pros and cons. It is very important for us to look at each competitor individually. Just because a feature exists across multiple competitor projects may not translate into the feature being highly user friendly. An isolated analysis of said feature may result in its exclusion from the project, since we are not influenced by its ubiquitousness.
Do select products that are direct competitors to your client’s. This is a very straightforward rule. In our approach, we always select a set of competitors that are a direct complement to your project. This helps us quickly identify industry standards and understand end user expectations. For example, for your training site project, we hypothetically studied a social media site. This will probably result in your site having very high information sharing between users but may not necessarily be a good viewing platform for training content.
Don’t Study only one competitor’s product. This could result in limited research. We make an effort to comprehensively study the strengths and weaknesses of many other sites. For example, while developing the hypothetical training website for you, we only researched competitor A. We were able to identify a lack of navigation on their website. However, since we did not choose to look at competitor B, your website had the same login issue as theirs. Too much interaction with a single competitor's product may also lead to plagiarism. We ensure that every solution we deliver is free of any infringement or copyright violation.
Don’t start from scratch. You still decide that you want a unique approach to your project and avoid plagiarism. Well, it is understandable that you want your product to be different from competition. However, we still want to understand existing approaches and their embedded weaknesses to create your unique product. This will, ultimately, deliver a cutting edge solution.
Competitor Analysis is a very simple approach that is used by both novice and seasoned designers. It is not time consuming (8-10 hours) and does not require any additional resources (a word processor and snipping tool is enough). It will help your project build on its competitors’ strengths while simultaneously correcting and eliminating their weaknesses. Ultimately, your users would have an experience that is familiar yet more intuitive and effortless than the rest of the pack.