“Am I a copycat?”… Create a familiar interface where users feel at home
You should be intimately familiar with what competitors and those in similar industries (even if they’re not a direct competitor) are doing. Understanding what works really well for users currently, and implementing these familiar paradigms will help users feel right at home, like being with an old friend.
This one is very simple and a no-brainer. Ask yourself:
- Who are they and where are they?
This is relevant to the type of users they may attract, and possibly even the technical level / age group.
- What is their competitive advantage?
What do they do extremely well?
- What do users find most useful about their user experience?
This can even include delivery time and transparency during production if it’s a custom order?
- What do users love about them?
Keep a close eye on this.
- What do users hate about them?
Let’s not do any of these.
You’ve probably already done this, and there are many articles on in-depth competitor analysis. It’s probably worth signing up for a competitor’s digital subscription and scouring their website to see exactly how they do what they do. Check out their app on a desktop, tablet and a mobile device and see how they’re rocking out the different interfaces.
Similar industry analysis
Just because they’re not a competitor, doesn’t mean what they’re doing isn’t relevant. Imagine that you sell software and you found a really cool way a clothing company is selling their clothes. Different products but similar industry in that you both sell online. Whether it be how products are displayed or the checkout process, it may be translatable to how users use your site. That is a familiar-enough example of something users do on almost all storefront websites.
Familiar usage paradigms
You might think that top-left logo, top-right search box, and a navigation below that is old-hat, however this is what people are used to. This, however, doesn’t mean that you should follow the norm – do what’s best for your application, but be mindful to not hide the tools users often use in unfamiliar places.
You should also be mindful that different user types find different interface parts familiar. I previously published a post on User psychology and expectations, which covers the basics of how users might interact with an interface, given their personality type (some prefer search, some prefer top navigation, some content), so cater to all these users by giving them a familiar interface with familiar controls.
Create perceived familiarity for unfamiliar processes
Want to introduce a new process or a new way users can get through their user journey? You can help users feel right at home with clear sign-posting, in-place training or even during your communications plans before roll-out.
Be mindful of I.P.
Let me be clear – this article is not about violating I.P. or copying someone else’s hard work, but rather basing your application off of familiar usage patterns / paradigms so your application feels familiar to your users.
No one ever intends to violate I.P. law intentionally. A group of people may design something awesome behind closed doors, build it and then realise someone else did exactly the same thing but patented it already (especially if this was done in a completely different context / technology / industry, so it’s out-of-sight unless you do a specific patent search). This is still patent infringement and you still have to address it, even though it was also your idea.
I’ve helped several clients navigate the pitfalls of potential intellectual property violations. One key project comes to mind, where I rebuilt their store locator. We navigated the patent law landscape very carefully. Patent law (especially in the US) is a bit of a mine-field, especially when it comes to design patents (which can include great ideas rather than specific designs). Several usage paradigms have been patented, e.g. finding a geolocation on a digital map.
This means that basically every store locator on every website is in violation of this patent who haven’t found legal cover. There are several ideas sub to this as well, like displaying coupons specific to a store location on a map. The list is never-ending, so be mindful and do your research – even if it’s a great idea, someone else may have thought of it first and patented it.
That said, there are ways around being in violation of I.P. – you can attain (or alternately pay) for the rights to use it, or you can find other ways to get legal indemnity. Either way – be sure you’re designing something that is legally feasible. If in doubt, contact your legal team.
Users are trained by their online experiences, whether it’s mobile, apps, or websites. Giving them a familiar and predictable interface is important for your brand affinity and user retention / revisits, and allows you (and them) to focus on what’s really important – your content.
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