Why you shouldn’t copy the UX patterns of large successful companies

Even great companies make mistakes. Don’t risk your UX by believing it’s safe to follow a design pattern just because a successful company is using it.

It’s natural to look towards design giants like Google, Amazon and Apple. These companies are successful and popular with clients, so why not copy their solutions for common design problems?

In fact, it’s a great idea to take a look at the top companies in your industry to find out how to solve your problems. But not recommended blindly copy a design just because another, larger company did it first. Aside from the fact that giant companies operate in a completely different brand context, the truth is that just because a company is successful doesn’t mean you can assume that everything in its design is well done.

Here are some illustrative examples of designs that definitely shouldn’t be copied if you’re not sure or if you don’t need to convince someone else!

Minimalist input fields

Over the past few years, minimalism has become incredibly popular among designers. This trend was so influential that some teams even tried to apply it to basic data entry fields, replacing the traditional input field with a single line.

Left: Traditional form fields are displayed as rectangles that users must click or tap before starting to enter their information. Right: A recent minimalist approach to the design of the input box uses only the bottom line to represent the text box.

This style of input fields was even adopted by Google: until 2017, it was included in Google Material Design.

There are clearly many talented designers and developers at Google who do a fantastic job. But even a talented team doesn’t guarantee that whatever they try will be perfect. In this case, going from borders to lines didn’t actually improve the user experience, and in 2017 Google changed the Material Design input field component back to rectangles. Susanna Zaraysky and Michael Gilbert publicly shared their research on this design evolution, explaining that after testing usability and user preferences with hundreds of users, they concluded that “text boxes outlined with rectangles (frames) perform better than affordance lines.”

Teams that rely on experimental, data-driven design approaches tend to try many bad decisions before settling on good ones. An outside observer does not know which aspects of the design have been rigorously tested and which assumptions have not yet been thoroughly analyzed.

Overly decorative menus

Amazon is another technology leader well known for its data-driven decision making. So, following his lead might seem like a safe option. However, keep in mind, constant experimentation means that many ideas are only implemented to be discarded after they have failed. Trying to use a design that eventually becomes difficult to use will have only a small negative impact on the business of a large company, especially if it carefully monitors performance and makes adjustments quickly. But companies that don’t have the resources to constantly monitor and update their designs can lose more when implementing risky designs and should be careful when copying a pattern just because Amazon uses it.

For example, a while ago Amazon used decorative themed images as the background for the product menu in its mobile app. Customers browsing the department Outdoor Heatinghave seen a subcategory text menu overlaid on top of an attractive campfire image. Unfortunately, the background image made some of the menu items difficult to read. This design has now been replaced by a category menu that is much easier to read, with high-contrast text labels on a plain background.

Why you shouldn't copy the UX patterns of large successful companies
Left: In 2016, Amazon’s mobile app used menus that overlaid a background image associated with a menu category, but some of the menu items were very difficult to read. Right: Later design displays legible menu labels on a plain background, accompanied by representative images.

Amazon may not have noticed the negative impact of the hard-to-read menu. Even if customers are uncomfortable with this menu, they will be highly motivated to keep using Amazon due to other factors. Such as the huge selection, low prices, free shipping, and the fact that many of them already have an account with a saved shipping address and billing information, making it easier to checkout. Ecommerce sites that don’t have these benefits are much more at risk of losing customers who can’t find the product easily.

Unavailable content: gray on gray

Reducing the contrast of less important information is an effective strategy for making the most important information more visible. But it’s easy to get carried away and use colors that are too light to read, especially when displaying gray text on a gray background.

Apple is a company often associated with great design and has created many great user experiences. But, unfortunately, it also showed the problem of over-focusing on certain parts of the design. At the time of this writing, Apple’s home page lists prices for items displayed in gray on a gray background with a contrast ratio of just 3.47, well below the 4.5 contrast level required to meet the most minimal accessibility requirements.

Why you shouldn't copy the UX patterns of large successful companies
Apple.com: Product prices shown in light gray text on a gray background do not meet minimum text contrast requirements.

Of course, this does not mean that Apple’s business is in jeopardy or that customers will not buy their products. But just because Apple can get away with it doesn’t mean it’s okay. Do not use colors that for many people will make the text difficult or impossible to read. There is no good reason to do this when you can easily adjust the text color a few shades darker.

In addition, the information that Apple has decided to understate the user’s attention (price) is important. Apple may want customers to ignore the prices of its products, but all of our research on e-commerce users (whether they are B2C or B2B buyers) has unanimously concluded that users want to see the price. Pricing is one of the most important pieces of information to consider when purchasing a product.

Use context to explain the limitations of design patterns

Many UX professionals believe that their peers defend design patterns solely because they are used by other successful companies. As one stakeholder said, “If it’s good enough for Apple, it’s good enough for us.” The problem with this statement is that You do not Apple… Be sure to use this context to explain to colleagues how industry, market, and customer experiences make each brand’s UX unique. And the fact that leading tech companies are constantly changing designs. Therefore, even the design they use today can easily be replaced with something better tomorrow. Do your own prototype or A / B testing to make sure a design solution works with your audience before you invest resources in creating it, only to find that it doesn’t produce the results you want.

Author: Clark Douglas

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