How To Conduct a Competitive Analysis as a UX Designer

Cynthia Vinney, contributor to the CareerFoundry blog

Want to conduct an awesome competitive UX analysis? Download this free template and follow our step-by-step guide below.

UX designers don’t design new user experiences in a vacuum. No matter how unique or special a product is, it will inevitably compete with something already on the market. That is why it’s valuable to conduct a competitive UX analysis at the start of a new project.

Through the analysis you will evaluate the user experiences of your client’s competitors from your expert perspective as a UX designer. This will help orient you, your client and other stakeholders to the competitive landscape and give you an idea of what user experiences are standard for the market you’re designing for.

A competitive UX analysis will also help you think creatively about where you might be able to innovate in your UX design, as well as features you might want to avoid.

When initially dreaming about the possibilities for their new project, many clients will take inspiration from products that already exist.

If you conduct a competitive UX analysis, it will give you evidence that will enable you and your client to get on the same page about what the market really looks like from a user experience perspective and what that means for your project.

In this article, we’ll delve into the details of competitive UX analysis with the following:

  1. Why is a competitive UX analysis useful?
  2. The benefits and limitations of a competitive UX analysis
  3. A guide to conducting a competitive UX analysis (Plus a free template)
  4. Key takeaways

We’ve also included a free, downloadable template—you’ll find it in section three.

1. Why is a competitive UX analysis useful?

When you start a new project as a UX designer, there are many research methods you can use to determine who your users are and decide what the best user experience for them will be. On the other hand, competitive UX analysis gives you the opportunity to look outside your project and take in the market as a whole.

Writing for UX Planet, UX consultant Matt Isherwood identifies four reasons to conduct a competitive UX analysis:

To determine standard practices in the market

Depending on the product you’re designing, users likely already have expectations for the user experience and features they might encounter.

For example, if you’re designing a website for a car manufacturer, users will expect that when they select a vehicle they will be able to see photos of both the interior and exterior in every color in which it’s available.

On the other hand, if you’re designing a weather app, users will expect to be able to see the current temperature in their location at the top of the screen along with forecast information below it.

To identify noteworthy user experiences

There will often be one or two competitors in your analysis that offer a particularly good user experience. This might be because they’ve figured out an innovative solution to a problem or they’re using a novel feature that enhances what users are able to do.

But this could also be something like an especially well-placed navigation element or smart use of nomenclature. No matter what it is, these noteworthy user experiences are worth learning from and considering for adaptation and inclusion in your project.

To identify features to avoid

While there will always be competitors doing an especially good job, there will also be competitors at the opposite end of the spectrum.

These competitors offer a poor user experience for any number of reasons, including confusing navigation, difficult to understand user interactions or outdated functionality. These examples will teach you what not to do for your project—such as these ten classic UX design fails.

To notice unique features

As you evaluate various competitors, you may find you notice unique features you may never have considered. For example, if you’re creating a grocery delivery app, perhaps while reviewing competitors you notice one has a feature that allows you to select the level of ripeness of bananas by using a series of photos that show bananas with peels ranging in color from green to brown.

While it may not ultimately apply to your project, it’s worth taking note of these unique features so you can understand where and how competitors are innovating.

2. The benefits and limitations of a competitive UX analysis

A competitive UX analysis will help you orient yourself to the competition and understand the market. After all, users are creatures of habit, and a user who has spent time with your competitors will come to your product with certain expectations based on those previous experiences. As a result, before you design something completely new and unique, you need to understand the standards for a product’s user experience, an evaluation that will greatly benefit the design process.

On the other hand, there are some limitations to a competitive UX analysis that you should keep in mind. First, there may be the temptation to copy the competition. This is not the purpose of competitive UX analysis, however. The purpose is to inform the design process by learning from what your competitors are doing. You should always review several competitors, exploring the strengths and weaknesses of all of them. This will enable you to take inspiration from several sources to create something tailor-made for your product.

Furthermore, a competitive UX analysis can’t tell you where innovation is needed, it can only tell you what already exists. This is why a competitive UX analysis is only one of several research methods you should employ when tackling a UX project.

3. How to do a competitive UX analysis (step by step)

Before we jump in: If you’re conducting your first competitive UX analysis, you may find our downloadable competitive analysis template useful.

1. Identify your objectives

The first thing you need to do when conducting a competitive UX analysis is determine what your objectives are. Make sure you know exactly what you want to learn from this analysis. When you start evaluating competitors you can quickly become overwhelmed by everything involved in a given app, website, or other product. Laying out your objectives beforehand will prevent this from happening.

For example, if you’re creating a new app where users can stream movies and TV shows, one of your objectives might be to understand how competitors draw users’ attention to new entertainment choices.

2. Identify your competitors

Before you get started, you have to settle on the competitors you’ll include in your analysis. One of the first things you should do is ask your client and other stakeholders who they feel are their three or four top competitors. These competitors should automatically be included in your analysis. You should also come up with your own suggestions, especially focusing on competitors that may be less obvious.

Make sure your analysis includes both direct competitors—those that are operating in exactly the same market space—and indirect competitors—those that draw a different audience, like a social network geared exclusively towards young children if you’re working on a social network for adults, or include a similar feature, like a shopping cart tool for a different product than the kind you’re working on.

Ideally you’ll want to include five to ten competitors, but this may be constrained by time or budget issues.

3. Screenshot, take notes, repeat

Now that you know your objectives and have your list of competitors, you’ll visit each competitors’ product and navigate the relevant parts like any user would. As you go, take screenshots and record notes about everything you observe.

The easiest way to do this is to create a folder for all of the screenshots and a spreadsheet for your notes.

The spreadsheet should list all the competitors as well as all the parts of the product you’re evaluating so you’re sure to capture notes for everything you need from every competitor.

Alternatively, you can use an awesome tool like Airtable, a tool that allows you to gather screebshots, notes, links and more, all in one place and ready for you as you start to design your product (or as you conduct a redesign)

4. Compile your findings into a presentation

After you’ve finished going through the competitors, use your screenshots and notes to put together a presentation. You won’t mention every single thing you observed in the presentation, but you should mention the most relevant and noteworthy things.

Most importantly, at the end of the presentation, you should be sure to present a list of recommendations in which you boil down what you learned and explain how it will be put into practice in your project’s UX design.

4. Key takeaways

You should now have a basic understanding of why you should conduct a competitive UX analysis and the basic steps you would take to do so. To sum up:

  • When you begin a new UX project, a competitive analysis is a research method that can help you and your client understand what the market for their product currently looks like.
  • A competitive UX analysis will help you understand what user experience standards exist in the market sector, and therefore, what users’ expectations of a product in this space might be. The analysis will also give you information about competitors’ strengths and weaknesses as well as unique features they might be using.
  • A competitive analysis has the benefit of informing the design process, but it can only show you what already exists in the market, not where innovation may be needed.
  • Make sure you have a clear understanding of your objectives for your competitive UX analysis.
  •  A competitive UX analysis should include 5-10 competitors and include both direct and indirect examples.
  • Ask your client or other stakeholders for recommendations of competitors to include in the analysis, but also come up with your own suggestions.
  • For each competitor, take screenshots and notes as you navigate through the parts of the product you’re evaluating.
  • Compile your screenshots and notes into a presentation where you highlight the most important information you learned.
  • Make sure you include a list of recommendations at the end of your presentation that explain how your analysis will impact your project’s UX design.

Now that you know how to conduct a competitive UX analysis, you might want to learn more. If so, you’ll find the following articles useful:

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