When we ask what they want from their new websites, many of our design clients say they want their sites to be like Apple.com or Amazon.com. But why? Most of these clients bear little resemblance to Apple or Amazon. Their websites are primarily meant to communicate and inform, not to sell products. They may have member or customer databases, but they haven’t invested in capturing the kind of customer data Amazon or Apple have.
So what are these clients really saying?
“What is it you like about Apple?” I ask. Usually, they say something along the lines of, “It’s so clean.” They are reacting against the busy-ness and excess of their current sites.
What do they want to emulate about Amazon.com? “We want people to feel like the website knows them.” When we probe further, we find this can mean many things: personalization based on an individual log in, role-based access to content, targeting by interest area, topical navigation, or just plain usable navigation and search. But wanting the website to “know people” is usually a reaction to the fact that people can’t find content on the current website. The client just wants people to be able to discover relevant content.
So, what’s the takeaway here? Am I saying not to be ambitious and emulate the big guys? Of course not. There’s plenty of inspiration to be found there. But they are not you. Think realistically about what kind of organization you are and who you want to be in your marketplace. Think about the problems you are trying to solve, what your goals are, and what content, data-gathering, and functionality you can realistically support. You may not end up with a site that looks like Apple’s or acts like Amazon’s, but you will have a site that serves your audiences and your organization well.