“Revolut does that” - How to avoid a mistake of emulating others in your own products
We all hear this almost every day, don’t we? “Revolut does that, so it has to work” or “AirBnB does it, so it will work for us too”. Obviously, there is nothing wrong in looking at others who managed to deliver successful products to the market. However, building on top of experiences and solutions that work for others, may turn out to be a dead end for your own product.
One of the first things we do when building a new product, is to look at the competition to build some sort of reference. We create benchmarks, gather best practices, and then, we build our own product with what we see as safe and proven solutions other companies use and benefit from. This happens even more often when the company can’t do a proper user research, when the new product is being delivered to the market. Or when there’s simply not enough money to conduct a research on your existing customers, identifying their needs and addressing their problems with the product you are building for them.
And this is when we turn to competition and market leaders for their silent advice. Studying their ways of work, user flows, UX/UI interface solutions, we extract things we think will work with our own products as well. Generally there is nothing wrong with that if you just benchmark your product among the competition. However, emulating these solutions to the point they become the core features of your app, now that’s a problem. And here’s why.
If something works for others, it doesn’t mean it will work for you and your customers
Delivering the right solution to your customers is a process that takes a lot of different factors into account. When you decide to look at ready-to-go solutions from products that already are doing well on the market, think about how similar to yours is the reference product you wish to emulate. Different industry, different business model, different audience, these factors may be the main reason why something that works for others won’t be a successful feature for your product.
For example, if you’re building a hotel booking app your customers will use every now and then when planning a trip, benchmarking with Twitter solutions is not the best way to go, as Twitter serves entirely different purpose to a different kind of audience. Twitter users visit the app 10-20 times a day. Their in-app behaviour is totally different from your user behaviour patterns. Ttherefore emulating Twitter features in your booking app probably won’t work in the long run.
Sometimes it’s not just the mismatched features you emulate. The business model itself can be flawed if you base solely on your competition’s experiences. This is the case with YouTube Music app which currently tries to enter the subscription based music market alongside Spotify and Tidal. YouTube has totally misjudged their subscription model, that is based on paid features no one will ever pay for. Youtube Music wanted to be a premium product without a proper business case, charging for features others offer for free. All they wanted was to monetize their free, non exclusive content and failed to do so, since their core business model based on running ads in videos is extremely different from Spotify’s premium music access.
You never really know what works and what doesn’t
Revolut doesn’t hide the fact they don’t spend money on user research and their in-app UX patterns are based on gut feeling and on their Product Designers’ experience. But how do we know these solutions really work for them? Revolut’s business model is based on very low exchange rates and accessibility of their service. So, is a great UX really that important to them?
And yet, when it comes to UX patterns, Revolut has become a new benchmark for many, a new Uber and Airbnb for Fintech products. Would anyone copy their marketing strategy the way it is without looking at its actual impact (which is basically no marketing strategy at all, simply pushing users to find new customers for Revolut)? I don’t think so.
And how do we know Revolut user paths convert better than for example the ones in Monese or N26? We don’t. In this case benchmarking is based only on the buzz the brand has created in the industry. Blindly following their UX solutions, without knowing if they actually work is a bit risky. Especially when your business is not the world’s biggest financial unicorn with millions of dollars still pumped by investors to keep it afloat. Now that’s something to think about.
Some patterns are simply bad or evolve over time
Keep in mind not everything that seems to be working UX-wise is successful. Some ideas prove themselves to be wrong the second they hit the market. This was the fatal fate of Windows Phone and its tile-based interface. It really was impossible to use and got the ones responsible fired from Microsoft. And yet, for a period of time product teams were building apps for Microsoft platform just to be able to deliver a Windows Mobile experience without a real evaluation of this particular market. My company has shut down Windows Phone branch when they’ve realised our developers are working full time to deliver features to a total of 200 Windows Mobile users we had. After this, they were transferred to Android team and no one in the office has mentioned Windows Phone ever again.
Another thing is the evolution of UX patterns. Sometimes it’s based on new technology that allows to build entirely new products (for example voice interfaces, IoT), sometimes it’s the users’ behaviour that changes overtime and requires iterations in existing products.
If you look at Google and their Material Design guidelines, you’ll realise over the last few years they’ve been floating closer and closer to iOS UX patterns. Smoother transitions between the screens, micro interactions, and finally admitting the fact that iOS tab bar is the way to go when it comes to navigating through the apps only proves that Google has evaluated their own Design System they’ve been using for years and decided it has to change. Does it mean Material Design wasn’t really working for them? At the beginning it has served its purpose but markets and users change and design patterns, no matter how popular, become obsolete.
If you want to copy the feature someone already uses, try to benchmark not only the feature itself but also the entire product. Compare its business model, target audience and UX patterns to make sure its proven solutions will also answer your needs.
Make sure your benchmarks really work. Look into analytics reports if you can, find out how the UX flows you wish to emulate convert.
Keep an open mind. Just because your chosen benchmark is popular, doesn’t mean it is well designed.
Look for solutions that work and are best for your product. Don’t try to change your product to better fit competitors business models, only because they are successful.
Design world is always evolving and nothing is set in stone. Keep an eye out for new things and try to look at existing solutions from all angles before you’ll decide to use them.