Understand your market, know the competition (AKA never skip domain research and competitive analysis…)

Design team discussing research plan

UX and UI designers are experts at empathising with users – who may be customers, students, patients, or employees using the product we are designing or optimising. Although many of us bring expertise from a past life into our work, it’s likely that we will not know a huge amount about the sector or vertical we are working in when we take on a new project. This is a significant knowledge gap when it comes to forming initial hypotheses and planning how we will conduct research for the project, so before an interview takes place, or pen touches sketchpad, it’s really valuable to do a bit of desk research.

UX research aims to build a balanced picture of the needs and wants of the user, collecting quantitative (concrete, often statistical) and qualitative (experiential, inconcrete, anecdotal) data, at both macroscopic (high level, big picture, large scale) and microscopic (fine detail, smaller scale) levels of scope. Many of these research methods are implemented (with slight tweaks) from social scientific research methodology. 

Domain research:

There are a few questions you can keep in mind when conducting domain research:

Are there any emerging trends in the specific market?

Is the need for this product on the rise?

Who is currently dominating this market?

What are people using?

Is this a saturated market?

Should this be mobile or web first?

Competitive analysis:

For competitive analysis it is really helpful to take a few direct competitors – especially ones that are currently leading the market in some way – and a few indirect competitors who are succeeding in an area we would want this product to succeed in. The analysis itself is a binary assessment of the content, style, format, and processes these competitors have in place. 

Domain research and competitive analysis contribute to our understanding of the product’s position in its market and sector (at a macro scale) by gathering concrete (quantitative) data, helping the researcher and designers to contextualise the product. The competitive analysis is particularly useful in picking up design features that already work and noticing gaps in the market – which can really inform the direction we want to take the product in.

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