For some time now there has been a disturbing trend developing. I don’t mean the growing number of people who think orange is a good skin colour (although it is truly horrendous). I do mean the growing number of copycat websites. The phenomenal success of Apple has resulted in a ‘me too’ culture; whereby brands believe that if they look like Apple they will experience the same success. What you generally end up with is a range of poor quality clones that are all style and no substance.
‘But NO!’ I hear you cry, ‘what about (insert favourite website)?’ If your chosen example really is a successful site that provides good user experience then brilliant. But there will be a good reason for this, the creators haven’t simply copied Apple, they have explored, understood and adapted their design philosophy. I’m not splitting hairs here, there is a significant difference between blindly copying what you see, and understanding why it works and how you can use it.
All skin and no core
It is easy to see why businesses feel the need to copy Apple’s approach to web design. It’s simple colours, clear lines and plain backgrounds are inviting without being overbearing. It’s approach to menus, buttons and interaction are clearly in line with Whitney Hess’ 10 UX design principles. But, the reason it works for Apple is that it is part of the whole Apple package and philosophy. If you look at their stores, their products and their packaging you will see the same customer orientated, understated design.
A wolf in sheep’s clothing is still a wolf and a bad website dressed as Apple is still a bad website. So how do you learn from Apple and fix the problems with your own site without resulting to copycat behaviour?
From small seeds
Apple as a company know who they are. It has been led from the front by a strong personality and has a strong brand image. People know what to expect from their product range and Apple know their audience. Can you say this about your company? If you don’t know who you are, how can you expect to create a website that reflects your image? Before you create or make changes to your site ask yourself some searching questions:
- Who are you?
- What does your business do?
- What is your business’ philosophy?
- What is your business’ image / brand?
- Who are your customers?
- What do they expect from your business?
Answers to these questions are essential if your website is to be a true reflection of you and a good user experience for your customers.
Personalise don’t plagiarise
Having the answers is only half the battle. Once you know who you are you need to design your website to reflect this brand persona. The needs and expectations of your customers also need to be reflected in your design. So unless you have exactly the same business persona and customer segment as Apple there is little point in copying them.
Choose colours and lines that create continuity within your brand. This should also be reflected in your logo and its placement on your site. However, keep in mind that the stylistic elements of your design need to be balanced with your overall design philosophy. Unique and individual design is only good design if it is user friendly.
Friendly philosophical foundations
Apple makes it look easy. Their website is slick, user friendly and screams excellence. But it doesn’t just happen overnight or by chance. The package is brought together by a strong design philosophy that puts the needs of the customer first and aims to provide a good user experience. We have explored the basic principles of a user-friendly design philosophy in a previous post. But, how to create this philosophy and fix the problems with your existing design for your company and more importantly for your customers. It is actually easier than you may think and has four basic steps:
1. Research and compare – how does your site stand up next to others in your market sector with similar customer segments?
This involves more than just searching their sites. Try to contact them to find out why they designed in that particular way. Ask for copies of business goals, design philosophies and style guides. Take note of the companies who have no idea what you are talking about and keep this in mind when exploring their sites.
2. Create and apply – what do you want to achieve and how will you do it?
Use your research along with your own aspirations for your business to create / make changes to your website. If you have an existing site you may only want to make a few changes at a time. It is important for the next step that you can monitor reactions to changes you have made.
3. Test your design – what do your customers think?
The core principle of your design philosophy is good user experience. You can only know whether you are providing this by testing your site. Testing and testing methods are subjects worthy of a post of their own, but there are a range of good guides available to support this stage. Don’t forget to apply what you learn and to test each change you make.
4. Monitor and review – is it still working?
Things change over time and just as you may have to revisit business plans, you may also have to revisit your design philosophy. Sites Amazon for example are not the same as they were when they were first launch. They change to reflect updates in technology, shifts in customer type and changes in the wider business world. If you do not monitor and change with your customers needs you will lose them to a business that more closely meets their needs.
Apple is just one of a range of companies that have an impressive web presence and that provide good user experience. It is possible to add your site to this list. Copying these sites is not the answer, you need to maintain your individuality while learning from their philosophies, goals and their mistakes. Only by doing this will you be able to design to fix problems and develop a site that is a true reflection of your design philosophy.
What are your thoughts on copycat sites? Can they ever work or is the only way to start with your own design philosophy? Leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts.