97 UX Things

William Ntim - Don't Perform a Competitive Analysis Before Ideating

March 08, 2022 William Ntim & Dan Berlin Season 2 Episode 5
97 UX Things
William Ntim - Don't Perform a Competitive Analysis Before Ideating
Show Notes Transcript

William Ntim discusses how waiting to do a competitive analysis can improve your design ideation.

Dan Berlin:

Hi everyone and welcome to another edition of the 97 UX Things podcast. Dan Berlin here, your host and book editor. I'm joined this week by William Ntim, who wrote the chapter Don't Perform Competitive Analysis Before Ideating. Welcome, William.

William Ntim:

Thank you, Dan. It's a pleasure to be here.

Dan Berlin:

Thanks for joining the podcast. Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

William Ntim:

Yes, my name is William Ntim. I was actually born and raised in West Africa, Ghana, and I migrated or immigrated into the United States in 2009, at 19 years old. And my major was in multimedia design. But then it evolved over time into what I now do as a Senior UX Designer and it's been about 10 years so far in the industry. But I'm based in Austin, Texas and currently a Senior UX Designer at PayPal.

Dan Berlin:

Gotcha. Can you tell us a little bit more about that transition between multimedia to UX? What helped with that transition?

William Ntim:

Yeah, so honestly, the college course was set up beautifully in my opinion, because the primary focus was on 3D animation, which was pretty cool. But then it did have supporting courses such as Photoshop, which is graphic design, so focus on graphic visual design, as well as sound, audio, and then video, and then 3D animation, plus web design and development. Yeah, so that was that was an incredible variety of multimedia or just media to really consume and delve into and I think that helped develop my passion for all things communication, digital media, which has been useful in UX design, because you're designing for multiple devices.

Dan Berlin:

Right, right. Great. And can you dig in a little bit more about your UX journey? So you mentioned discovering it in those courses, but can you tell us about your UX journey and how you wound up where you are today?

William Ntim:

Yeah, so my first job was, I was a graphic designer intern at the college that I went to, Lone Star College in Houston, Texas. And then I got my first real job as a graphic designer at a local Yellow Pages publishing company. Yeah, it's crazy, they still exist for some reason. So that was my first real job. And it was a nice promotion and a good hourly rate I was really excited for. But because I took web development, which we now would call that front-end development, right? Because I really didn't do a lot of backend, mySQL, I just focused on the front-end side, the design, the beauty of it, Java, JavaScript, etc. So, I got into this role as a graphic designer and while in this role, I was able to convince the owner... it was a small local company, but they were making multi-million dollars. So I told the CEO, hey, I know how to build websites, we can leverage the current customer base, who are local businesses in that particular city and offer web services to them. So it took me about three months of convincing her, I got a promotion to senior web developer for the company, and then at that point, I started building the websites. So I'm doing the WordPress, PHP side, the backend of it, as well as the design of it. That, to me, was when I really started forming my passion around which side of the of the process I want to be really focused in on, because the development was just... I mean, I enjoyed it, but that wasn't my passion. I was always going back to the fonts and to the space in the margin, the pattern, and how that experience really generated sales, what it looked like on mobile, different devices. So, that was when the world of UX really occurred to me. And then prior to that, I went to a career fair prior to getting that job, that had a UI role. And I remember speaking to the company, and I said, hey, I'm a graphic designer, I'm really good, I have a portfolio of print and I had, you know, back in those days you had those huge PDF, you're walking around with your graphic prints and everything. You know, you always had the physical prints, right? I had that, I showed it to them, and they're like, well, we're looking for a mobile designer. And I said, what do you mean? Well, it's for mobile apps. I said I'm a graphic designer, I could do it, it's the same thing. They're like, no. So I was turned down back then and I think that was a curiosity and frustration as well, because I thought to myself, I know I'm a really good graphic designer, but these guys just turned me down for some UI/UX role. And I decided to look into it some more. So fast forward with this web design and designing for all these different devices. That was when I really realized, oh, this is what UX really is and there's a whole discipline with processes and principles and methodologies that really bring this to life even more and I was like, wow. So then I started focusing on the design. I told them, hey, look, I don't want to do the development anymore. And then I started pursuing UX-centered roles. That's how it really formed for me there.

Dan Berlin:

Wonderful. I love hearing that transition from the development and graphic design, to getting the more holistic view and realizing that you're leaning towards the other side of that, and following that, so thank you for sharing that.

William Ntim:

Yeah, definitely.

Dan Berlin:

Your chapter, Don't Perform a Competitive Analysis Before Ideating. Can you please tell us about that?

William Ntim:

Yes. So there's a lot to say about that chapter. The background of that chapter really stemmed from working with a distributed team around the world of UX designers, great UX designers, but then noticing this very minute, but also very important part of the process. Because during design meetings or product requirement meetings, etc., whatever you want to call it, intake meetings, right? I found out that designers were quick to pull up what the competitor was doing, or what other businesses and companies are doing. And I think that was a shock to me in the beginning because I thought to myself, oh, that's what we do? Okay. And then it was just so normal. But I never did that. I always wanted to craft the experience or ideate first of what I thought the perfect solution would be based on the data points and the datasets that I had in that particular project or business or company or moment. So that really was something that took me aback a little bit and I pondered over that for about a week and I had to vent. I was like, this needs to go out. And I put those thoughts together and realized, you know what, I do have a point. I did some more research on that and realized, yeah, there is bias that's formed with that, because you cannot at first instant, just reach out or view what competitors are doing, and then come back and produce original work. So that was that cycle for me where I reached that conclusion, but I needed to validate it. So I got on YouTube, I read some books, I think one of them that stood out to me was the Blue Ocean Strategy. It talks about competitive analysis, but also building products based on what competitors are not doing. So there is a whole world around competition, what competitors are doing, and then even to find out that our sprint cycles also affect what's out live in production. So if we're looking at what Amazon or these other competitors are doing, well, that was six months ago work, estimatedly, right? So now if we try to build that and develop that we're actually going to be six months behind because they're already working on something now that's set to come out pretty soon, etc. So you're always going to be one step back and I think that was important for me to highlight and just break it out. Hey guys, this is what we're missing when we are quick to look at what the competitors are doing. We're going to do that in the next step, but right now let's get our notebooks, whiteboards, let's ideate, let's brainstorm, whatever we need to do to collect the fresh data, or not even data, fresh ideas and let's just seal that now before we see what other people are doing. And then it helps you validate what you're working on, what ideas you had. And that has been so helpful for me honestly, in my career so far, because I will put down ideas that I think will work based on research and all of that information I have concerning the project and then perform competitive analysis only to find out that, oh, wow... either competitors are doing the same thing, so that validates the idea, or competitors are doing something completely different that is not working. So then you realize that you have gold, you have something that's going to be even more effective than what's out there without any bias.

Dan Berlin:

Do you have a specific steps that you take when you do that? Is there a methodology that you take when doing that next step, and comparing what's out there to what you've ideated?

William Ntim:

Yeah, so I would say the competitive analysis as a methodology itself, is what I perform. But before I do that, I ideate or sketch with very little intrusion, even from team members. So it might be a little extreme, but what I do, I will actually tell my team members, okay, I got the PRD, I got the project requirements, and give me some time to collect my thoughts. I would actually step away if I need to, back in days pre-COVID when we were in the office, I would actually step into one of the whiteboard rooms, and just map out what I think, how I understand the ask, and how I see the solutions or possible solutions working, and then come back and have that brainstorming session. Because with cognitive bias, you're looking at bias not just from competitive analysis, but also from your team members from the same people you're going to be working with, but you have to make sure that you're being original with your thoughts. If every team member can protect their thoughts, you're going to end up having a collective of just incredible thoughts. It's still possible in brainstorming sessions, where everybody's just spewing ideas, that still works. But the thing is, there's still going to be that cognitive bias which comes in from different angles, because now you say something, you might trigger an idea from me. But the initial thought that I would have had without your influence is now either gone with the wind, and I may never be able to get that back. So, protecting my original thoughts is the first step and then the next step is competitive analysis. Okay, well, the next step is actually opening up to the team members. So collecting team members thoughts, which are also supposedly protected so it's original, authentic. And then we put those together, brainstorm, and then also introduce competitive analysis, figure out what are our competitors doing, how can we involve our research team? What data do they have to support or influence kind of the solutions that we're proposing or thinking about? And then we go from there, and then we can analyze and use affinity mapping or card sorting, or whatever we need to do to group and sort out the possible solutions that we have for this particular problem.

Dan Berlin:

Yep. Yep. Thank you for that. It sounds like you've been doing this for a while. Tell me about resistance to this. Have you encountered resistance to this way of ideating? And are there ways of overcoming this?

William Ntim:

I have, I have. I think it's not really done purposefully. I would honestly say it's mostly just habit and also time constraints or deadlines. So that also forces the process to be short and to be very fast and swift, and leaves very little room for us to really be attentive to individual steps of the process. But I think personally, like you said, I've been doing this for a while, and that has also helped me develop my own way of protecting these thoughts. And you can't really 100% avoid cognitive bias, right? Because we're always using apps and we're watching... there's media, there's ads, so you always have some kind of information coming in. But to take that extra step to protect the little that you have left is still useful. So yeah, I do get the pushback, but not willingly. It's just normal, natural constraints of deadlines. We need this yesterday. So then you're either stuck with okay, I need to ideate and pour everything out right now, or I need to not be so overprotective of it and just let maybe this one go. Because you have team members that are around the world. They're in different time zones. And this particular moment is the only moment that you might have to have everyone in the room. So there's so many little situations that affect your ability to follow this principle. But if you do it well enough, you're still able to, upon hearing that process... because it's all about speed too sometimes. But you're able to... I can actually be hearing or listening to a product requirement and already formulating ideas and solutions in my mind before that product requirement is done being read. So that helps me already know, okay, I'm either jotting things down, writing things out, typing on my TextEdit or notepad before the team is invited to speak or for ideas. And so that helps collect a little bit of gold. I call that those gold nuggets, before it's influenced.

Dan Berlin:

Yup. Well, even just taking those few moments, even if it is just a few moments or hopefully a day, to collect your thoughts, before digging into looking at what's out there, that small little bit can can help so much.

William Ntim:

Yes and to add to that too, I just throw out this. Sometimes, as the PRD is being read, you have team members or even the project manager will already suggest some solutions as they're presenting this problem statement to you. So being able to say, okay, give me some time, right? So, I'll do that. Like you said, you say, hey, give me some time to figure out, explore some options first, and then I'll circle back with you and we can brainstorm and figure out what ideas that we want to put together. That definitely helps, because I've had some of those slip through the cracks, where it's like, your brain or my brain gets stuck with what was said, or that solution that was presented along with the PRD. And then I find myself going down this road of trying to make that solution work and then only to go all the way, create the the mocks and present it and do a design review, and then come back to the same place that I would have arrived at, if it was just my idea, because that initial idea that came with the problem statement didn't work. Of course, it wasn't something that a UXer really thought about... okay, knowing what I know, having the experience I have, this other solution is probably going to work better, right? But also giving in to what the project managers bringing down, that does affect the experiences you create and the effectiveness of it.

Dan Berlin:

Yeah, yeah. And all this is not to say that competitive analysis isn't important, because it still can be very important. It's just a matter of when is that right?

William Ntim:

Yeah. Yeah, that's right. It's super important because like I said, it helps validate your solutions, it also helps you identify gaps in your own user experience or in competitors' user experience. So that also helps you identify the... what would you call them? Not gaps, but the opposite of gaps? Strengths! Right? So it helps you identify the strengths in your user experience, as compared to your competitors. And you can use those strengths for marketing campaigns... I mean, you can really run with it and drive those numbers up when it comes to conversion, etc. But, it's super important, it's just a matter of when.

Dan Berlin:

Yup. And when doing those competitive analyses are there certain ways we should be doing them to make them most effective?

William Ntim:

You know, that's a good question. I mean, with with the influx of data and the constant shifts of user behavior, the volatility of user behavior has also increased over just this past year and couple of years. It goes back with starting with your user and truly identifying true competitors, that would be my baseline. That would be the foundation that I'll build this on. Because sometimes from the outside two businesses might seem like they are in competition with each other, just because they might be in the same category. If you dig into the demographics and geographics of your users, the household income, etc., you realize that you might actually be targeting different consumers. And then that also affects how you perform competitive analysis because you can rule that competitor out and just focus on the ones that are truly your competitors. I think the big part will be truly identifying your users, and identifying the users of your supposed competitors and comparing to make sure that you have at least, I would say, over 70-80% similarities between those users, that would be quality information. But if you're looking at anything, 50%... Yeah, that's not really strong data. I think that would be something hurtful to try to base your experiences and updates and optimization on a 50% competitor, you want to make sure it's a higher amount in that regard. That would be the biggest one for me. And then, of course, making sure that you're collecting data the right way and you have a good research team that has access, of course, ethical ways of collecting this data... practical ways of not hurting the market and being considerate of the methods, the way we collect the data, how we're infiltrating the competitive systems, etc. It's a whole ethical part that follows that. Yeah.

Dan Berlin:

That's a whole nother episode there.

William Ntim:

Yeah, I agree.

Dan Berlin:

So William, this has been a wonderful conversation about making sure to get your ideation out before doing competitive analysis. Was there anything else you were hoping to convey to folks here today?

William Ntim:

Yeah, so I would say definitely paying attention... not just competitive analysis, but paying attention to every step of the user experience process. Design thinking... just, our process of taking a problem statement and then collecting data, obtaining data, synthesizing, and then ideating. etc., all the way to production and shipping, right? I want users to pay very close attention to the steps of this process, and then also the order of the steps. Because if it's not done in an orderly manner, then you are bound to get different results at any step of the process that would affect your overall output. So that's an important thing, the order of the steps, and then also the steps itself, right? And then, lastly, why we do every step? I think it's important for users to understand why do we even ideate? Why do we brainstorm? Why do we bring the team together? Why do we do competitive analysis research? Understand why each of these processes are in place to arrive at the outcomes that we're looking for. And once you do that, it helps you perform or create experiences just naturally. Because even if you have tight deadlines, you're still able to either perform certain steps faster, or shrink certain steps together, but you're looking at the underlying value throughout each part of the process together to produce that overall, perfect... well, it's never gonna be perfect, but that maximal output in the end. So yeah, that's all I got.

Dan Berlin:

And if we are mindful about those steps, similar the conversation we've been having here, we can find ways to eliminate bias at each step, whether it's at the competitive analysis step or the user interview step, there's always ways to be doing this.

William Ntim:

Exactly. Beautifully said.

Dan Berlin:

So, thank you for all of this. In our last segment here, we like getting a career tip, whether it's for folks breaking into the field or for folks who have lots of experience, do you have a career tip for our listeners?

William Ntim:

I would say, and I'm not sure this has been said before, but I would say be truly passionate about helping people through your work as a UX designer, or UX professional. Because the passion is what's going to carry you through the ups and downs of our discipline. It's very emotionally tasking. And you can have your work, your experiences that you create, be pushed back, be ignored, be rejected. Now, if you're not truly passionate about it, this can sway your motivation levels, right? Which would affect your performance and eventually lead to burnout. So I'd say make sure that you're protecting your passion, and you're still falling in love with what we do as user experience practitioners, because we are shaping the future of technology, and really human computer interaction. So let's keep that keynote in mind.

Dan Berlin:

Wonderful, thank you for that. Yeah. And the passion, and the passion for the user, and making sure we keep the user in our UX conversations.

William Ntim:

Exactly, yeah.

Dan Berlin:

So William, this has been a wonderful conversation. Thank you so much for joining me today.

William Ntim:

This has been awesome. I appreciate you putting this together for UXer out there. I know they're gonna find this very useful.

Dan Berlin:

I hope so. That's that's the goal, right? Thank you for listening, everyone. You've been listening to the 97 UX Things podcast. My guest today has been William Ntim, who wrote the chapter Don't Perform a Competitive Analysis Before Ideating. Thanks for listening. You've been listening to the 97 UX things podcast companion to the book 97 Things Every UX Practitioner Should Know published by O'Reilly and available at your local bookshop. All book royalties go to UX nonprofits as well any funds raised by this podcast. The theme music is Moisturize the Situation by Consider the Source and I'm your host and book editor Dan Berlin. Please remember to find the needs in your community and fill them with your best work. Thanks for listening.