01/16/2011

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Copycat Design - 52 Weeks of UX [...] copying design is a horrible idea. Here’s why: You don’t know why a design element is the way it is. Every design element is in the throes of its own evolution. What state an element is in right now is as much an artifact of how it got there as anything…politics, culture, how good the coffee was that morning…all these things effect how a design element turns out. When you copy a design element you’re missing all of these things…you’re simply copying its current state. Without knowing the history of an element, you can’t know if it’s actually doing the job it’s supposed to do. You’re always behind. Playing catchup by copying other people’s designs means that you’re never innovating. You’re never pushing the boundaries for your customers. They probably won’t notice…and that’s a bad thing. Instead, you want them to notice that you’re improving things all the time based on their feedback. You’re outsourcing your most important decisions. When design teams are on top of their decisions they produce much better work. They’re actively listening to customers and thinking two or three steps ahead. When you outsource your design decisions, you’re stifling this. You’re putting up another barrier between you and your customers. By not responding directly to the needs of your customers you are erecting yet another barrier between you and them. You’re rewarding the wrong behavior. Not only is copying design bad for business, but it’s also detrimental to the psychology of your design team. When the accepted behavior is to copy from others, then you devalue the decisions of your own designers. You might not see negative effects right away, but you will a month or two down the line. You’re devaluing your own data. This is probably the biggest problem with copycat design. By outsourcing your design to others, you’re devaluing the insights you can gain from your own data. This means that you’ll investigate less, test less, do less user testing, talk less to your own customers. Pretty soon your culture becomes a full-blown copycat culture, with no innovation in sight. via 52weeksofux.com This article contains a really great summary of why blindly copying another site's design / feature is unlikely to do much besides devalue your product, dampen team motivation, and distance yourself from your customers. Remember: It doesn't necessarily matter that competitor X has feature Y. What does matters is that the actions you're taking today maximize the utility your customers gain from using your product.

Alex Bain

Some blend of software engineering, photography, and cognitive science.

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