Competitor Analysis: My Method

I am part of an excellent team at the University of Texas School of Law charged with the exciting task to re-design and re-build our faculty profiles and publications system. As I work through each stage of the process, I’ll be sharing what I’ve learned, what methods I used and where I failed/succeeded.

Up first: My Competitor Analysis Method

Step 1: Decide Competitors

Step 1: Decide Who We’re Competing With

As a top-15 law school in the country, it’s easy to decide who our competitors are: the other top-tier law schools. In my case, I decided to look at the top 25 law schools, which include:

  • Yale
  • Harvard
  • Standford
  • Berkeley
  • Columbia
  • NYU
  • Etc.
My only thought every time I consider my competitors.

We are designing to compete with the best of the best. When our team sets out to make a faculty profiles system, we are literally designing against powerhouses like Harvard and Yale.

Step 2: Analyze Competitors by the Numbers

Step 2: Analyze Competitors by the Numbers

I sat down with a good old spreadsheet and analyzed the competitors by the numbers. This gave me a good idea of what type of content each school displayed on their faculty profiles & publications systems. It showed me who actually has separate faculty profile & publication systems, who uses a third party and who incorporates the two.

From the numbers, I was able to learn that 100 percent of schools display the following fields, thus making them non-negotiable in our display:

  • Faculty Name
  • Position Title
  • Headshot Photo
  • Biography
  • Email Address

In addition, I was able to determine that while 96 percent display faculty publications on faculty profiles, less than 40 percent show faculty’s personal websites, awards, faculty news, and faculty activities. Making those pieces of content less important, at least right off the bat.

Knowing the numbers helps prioritize content. And content drives design.

Step 3: Create a Comparison Template

Step 3: Create a Template // Download Template

The third step in my competitor analysis was to create a template to compare all the school’s websites. I compared three views for each of the top 25 law schools:

  • Faculty Directory Aggregate page — the page that displays all faculty members
  • Faculty Profile Single page — the page that displays an individual faculty member
  • Faculty home page — the top-level “/faculty” page

In some cases the aggregate page was the same as the faculty home page, but I considered them two views for the purposes of this exercise.

I created a template, which I triplicated, to analyze each view. On the template, I asked three questions:

  1. What not to do?
  2. What is the existing standard?
  3. Where is the potential to be better?

The template gave me the direction to analyze the three groups of 25 screens each.

Step 4: Fill in the Template

Step 4: Fill in the Template

And then I filled in the template for each view. I literally took screen shots and printed each page out, grouped them into like categories, took notes on the printed screens, spread them out on my desk, and every other crazy UX thing you do to printed UI’s.

For each line, I answered each question and created a spectrum of sorts for myself. From filling in the template, I was able to conclude that on the Faculty Aggregate page:

  • Grid displays > Table displays > List displays
  • Simple, clean search with few facets > Complicated search with multiple facets > No search at all
  • No Sidebar > Well Organized sidebar > Long/unorganized sidebar

Of course this is only my analysis. They are only observations based on best practices and comparison. For some, a table display of faculty may be better than a grid display. For others, they may want to search for a faculty member using multiple facets.

These are only observations and theories, which I will now conduct usability tests, surveys and interviews to validate or invalidate.

Next Steps

My next step is to share this information with my team, see if they see the same commonalities as myself, and see if they’ve started thinking about how to solve some inherit problems we already have on our faculty profiles system.

Make sure to follow me for more project updates, including conducting usability tests, paper prototyping, design studios, and incorporating UX design in Agile development. -Amy Powell