Designing Difference


ake sure your company's special qualities don't get lost in a me-too design, says Ross Turner, Head of Design at Zolv. Clients often start the design conversation by mentioning sites they admire – sites that are usually their competitors. The feeling is that by copying what the best established brands in travel are doing, they can be beat them at their own game.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it doesn't necessarily make for good business. By aligning yourself with a competitor that is better placed in that market, you are simply endorsing their reputation and granting them leadership.

Now, clients will come back on this argument. They point out how they are different to the competitor companies they have cited. The differences may be about exclusivity of product or personal service, for example. And these are precisely the qualities that a good site needs to capture, promote and bring to life. Your company is different. It's special. Making it look like one of the giants will only undermine your proposition. At worst, you may deflect potential customers to the alternatives you've chosen to imitate.

Companies need to step out on their own when it comes to functional and aesthetic design. If you want to draw emphasis to your USPs then these must be the central driving force behind the whole design activity.

It rarely costs much more to try something new when it comes to design. The time spent to copy and paste an established method is usually negligibly less than it is to try something a bit more original. The processes still all have to be performed whether you're following what somebody else has done before or not.

This doesn't mean you should close yourself off to inspiration. If you look outside of the field of travel websites you will see a land of difference: a billion solutions to a billion problems.

Bringing difference to a design is often not a matter of adding, but of subtracting, simplifying and refining. Naturally as the online travel industry has grown up with the online community as a whole it has tended to add every new whistle and bell along the way. The classic human behaviour of one-upmanship has played its part and we are now at the point where sites are bursting at the seams with tools and information. It's all turning into white noise. If we stripped away all the information and features that nobody wants then maybe people could tune back in and see your company and products in perfect clarity.

We have so many new tools at our fingertips now to make sites more usable, more productive and easier to evolve – tools like HTML5, CSS3, Responsive Web Design, Web Fonts and mobile technology. The tools are there: with imagination and focus, you can achieve great things.

When was the last time you went to a travel website and thought Wow - this site is amazing? Next time, make it your site.