Thursday, October 13th, 2011
When people step outside their immediate comfort zone, amazing things can happen.
We witness it when football players take ballet. We see it when a furniture designer looks to nature for inspiration. We hear it when Tony Bennett teams up with Lady Gaga.
Unfortunately, we don’t witness this in the digital world enough. Instead of being open to a range of influences, site design processes often have a narrow focus that can result in “me too” looks rather than differentiated designs.
How does this happen?
As part of the discovery process, companies typically limit their review of the digital landscape to direct competitors and “top sites.” This practice is important for benchmarking and informing feature prioritization. But done alone, a competitive review can be limiting and inadvertently create a “keeping up with the joneses” effect rather than setting the stage for a differentiated experience.
How can you avoid this pitfall and create a more differentiated experience?
By expanding your circle of influence. By supplementing competitive reviews with brand spheres.
What Is A Brand Sphere?
A brand sphere is a map of your customers’ “go to” brands across verticals. It identifies the brands they choose as they go about their day and the brands you can find in their home.
What is in their refrigerator? Which labels do they wear? What car do they drive? What kind of phone do they have? Where do they eat out? Which gym do they belong to? Which hair and body care brands do they prefer?
A brand sphere draws a more complete picture of your customer. It illuminates their preferences and expectations. And it provides new fodder for inspiration.
For example, if you are designing a consumer electronics shopping site, why limit your influences to only other electronics sites or even ecommerce sites in general? Why not look at music and video sites where your consumers most likely spend more time? Why not look at the CPG sites that fall in their brand sphere? What can you learn from the news sites they visit? The social networks they use?
By looking across verticals, you will expose yourself to different design approaches and feature sets. The purpose is not to imitate these approaches but to take a step back and see if there are any distinct designs or features that spark an idea.
Undoubtedly new perspectives will fuel new ideas. Ideas that are as elegant and powerful as a football player who can both rush and plié.