The starting point for the entire SetDesign product design process, the very first deliverable, is none other than the Competitor & Inspiration Analysis. While it’s a design deliverable pieced together by a single designer, it’s paramount that all stakeholders/teammates participate as the exercise is absolutely communal & collaborative. While we’ll break down the How & the What shortly, it’s best to first understand Why we start with the C&IA (competitor & inspiration analysis); we’ll expand on each reason below, however, there are at least three high-level reasons for making this the product design origin:
- Triple-Checking Business Viability By Gauging The Competitive Landscape
- Preemptively Addressing Visual & Design Expectations By Understanding Stakeholder Tastes
- Providing A Sense Of Ownership Early-On
The final product, a 2 or 3-page document (seen below), is less traditional graphic design & is more accurately described as a product management deliverable. Nevertheless, it’s critical as the origin of our design process.
Coming Together Is A Beginning, Staying Together Is Progress, & Working Together Is Success
There are both external & internal whys for the C&IA. Internally, a key observation we’ve made in founding teams is that it’s not the small, loud arguments that de-rail projects, but rather the large, looming, silent misalignments that compound over time. Objectively, this early on in the product development process, the lead designer is the default leader; this means that your responsibilities go far above that of tweaking pixels — you need to uncover & align everyone’s (all stakeholder) product & design expectations. The C&IA is an exercise in team-building as much as it’s a market research deliverable:
Early On Everyone Needs To Feel Heard & Everyone Needs To Feel A Sense Of Ownership
Asking all stakeholders to submit competitors provides buy-in on the business model; asking all stakeholders to submit inspirations provides buy-in on the visual design. Additionally, since the C&IA is the very first deliverable between the lead designer & stakeholders (co-founders, clients, etc…), it means that this is the experience that stakeholders will mentally anchor move forward. It’s therefore imperative that we pay particular attention to the group dynamics — from lead designer to stakeholder as well as among stakeholders.
Assuming all team & co-founder issues rightly averted, the second-fastest way to fail is to build something no one needs; a simple way to de-risk this is double-checking an open niche within a marketplace. The research conducted in the Competitor Analysis section is extremely useful not only for identifying a clear business model but also for only crafting the team’s future marketing message & positioning as it becomes clear where the products’ potential strengths & weaknesses lie.
As a designer, it’s natural to use design lingo , however, this is rarely useful for the rest of the team. Great business relationships are met on exceeding expectations, yet this can only be achieved with crystal-clear communication of expectations. This same principle applies to how stakeholders expect the visual design to look, which anyone can attest is extremely tricky to communicate:
Everyone Has A Preconceived Notion Of What Design Means To Them
This is where the Inspiration Analysis comes into play. Don’t expect stakeholders to express their design expressions in your lingo; instead, make the effort to understand their design wants & needs by extrapolating common themes from the examples provided. It’s here where needs to feel & visually identify they’re contribution to the produce — this is where a communal sense of ownership is established.
Both sections & the final summary synthesized from it all serve to improve team chemistry as well as product development progress.
Start with our Sketch template here :) If not, feel free to use any of the three C&IAs above or below as visual guides; they’re not exactly design-intensive, but they do require constant communication & thorough research. Let’s skip over the first page (a summary of the other two pages) & learn how to construct the two main sections.
I. Competitor Analysis
Find a minimum of five direct or indirect competitors. Download or visit all of them & thoroughly comb through their user experience. Distill two or three key similarities. Assuming this is your first time, below are a few standard questions we’ve found worth answering when analyzing competitors products:
- What Core Action Do They Push Users Toward?
- What Is Their Pricing Model?
- What Audiences Does Their Messaging Target?
- What Colors Do They Use?
- What Marketing Content Do They Use?
- What’s The Language/Copy Like?
Once at least two key similarities or differences are found, expand on them by summarizing your thoughts in the Competitor Analysis section. To complete the template visually, screenshot the most impactful screens & lay them out accordingly.
II. Inspiration Analysis
The second section, the Inspiration Analysis follows a similar procedure. Start by extrapolating a minimum of five examples of “good design” from fellow stakeholders. As mentioned earlier, it’s unrealistic to expect non-designers to accurately express what they like in design terms; instead, try asking a few of the following:
- What’s Your Favorite App Or Website?
- What Do You Think Is Beautifully Designed?
- What Apps Do You Use Daily?
- What Product Would You Like This To Look Like?
Similar to the previous exercise, thoroughly comb through the inspirational examples to pinpoint exactly what fellow stakeholders consider strong design. Is it the colors? The iconography? The flatness or shadows? Maybe it’s the animations? Or perhaps the fonts? An increase of examples studied here greatly increases the likelihood that you capture the “ideal design” imagined by the rest of the team. Remember, this is imperative for both harboring a sense of community & a sense of ownership — stakeholders need to see that they’re heard.
By now you’ve seen multiple examples — the finished deliverable is a succinct, polished, two or three page PDF. Per Simon Sinek, we believe it’s critical to first understand why we include this deliverable, followed by how we do it. With both out of the way, we’re accordingly left with the what. The C&IA is a market-research, product discovery, & team-building exercise that consists of two research pillars (competitors / inspirations) & culminates with an actionable summary.
- Summary Page
The first page is an actionable summary of the other two pages. It’s placed first for readability, but it should be filled in last during the exercise.
2. Competitor Analysis
The second page is a compilation of the very best design work featured in indirect or direct competitors; additionally, this is where we verbally state the market landscape opportunities that we intend on leveraging.
3. Inspiration Analysis
Last, this is the section where we understand what the group considers “good design.” As mentioned, this is dynamic & highly-dependent on the project stakeholders; it’s highly subjective but necessary as all stakeholders need to see that their suggestions are at least under consideration.
And that’s it! Zone-in on both pillars of research, then zoom-out & summarize it all in actionable terms. Note the frequent emphasis of the adjective actionable — all the analysis in the world does no good if it isn’t translated to guided output.
Launching a product is the equivalent of testing a hypothesis (or a string of them). To do this successfully as a team, it’s imperative that everyone first agrees on said hypothesis (business model) as well as the structure of the experiment (product design). The C&IA creates a foundation of vocalized assumptions to grow from, but more importantly, it’s structured in a way that creates a starting point for the team. It’s a way of saying “this is the mission & the market, we’re all on-board” while also saying “your vision counts too, this is a collaborative effort.” Once everyone is aligned on key assumptions, we’ll turn our focus on the next deliverable, an Early-Adopter Survey.