The hot article of the day is Why Your Startup Shouldn’t Copy 37signals or Fog Creek over at OnStartups.com.
Here’s the problem with copying: Copying skips understanding. Understanding is how you grow. You have to understand why something works or why something is how it is. When you copy it, you miss that. You just repurpose the last layer instead of understanding all the layers underneath.
The article is referring to ideas and business models, but I think interface design is an example more people can relate to. Have you seen an interface that was obviously copied from someone else’s interface? The copy usually lacks depth and detail. They miss the spacing, the proportions, the relationship between colors and objects and buttons and links. It’s usually pretty close, but there’s something not right about it.
Why? Shouldn’t copying something be easier than creating it? Someone else already did the work, right? The problem is that the work on the original is invisible. The copier doesn’t know why it looks the way it looks or feels the way it feels or reads the way it reads. The copied interface is a faux finish.
This is why future iterations of a copied interface begin to break down quickly. The copiers don’t understand where to take it next because they don’t understand the original intention. They don’t know the original moves so they don’t understand the next move.
Look around at interfaces that were clearly copied from someone else’s UI and you’ll find a lot of inconsistencies and sore thumbs. That’s the new stuff.
While I’ve been using interface design as an example, the original article was more about business models. I think copying leads to a lack of understanding there as well. Be influenced by many, copy none.
So bottom line: Copying hurts you. You miss out on what makes something good. Instead, try to be exposed to a variety of perspectives and points of view. Take whatever you find useful and leave the rest behind. Fill in the gaps with your own ideas. In the end you have make your own way forward.