Why it’s (usually) better to copy others

@diet_prada proving that nothing is truly original these days.

Before I became a designer, I had a rather silly perspective on what design is. I viewed designers (fashion, UX, industrial etc) as these gods who would sit in their ivory tower, creating trends, cars, buildings and brands out of thin air. All their ideas were their own, and anyone who took inspiration from others was a fraud.

On the first day of my UX design bootcamp, however, I was alarmed when my teacher encouraged us to look at other apps or websites to inspire our designs. He recommended we visit Dribbble, Mobbin.design, Pinterest and more to inform what we were working on — whether it was a checkout flow, a music app, or a settings page.

Upon hearing this, I was alarmed. What sort of profession was I entering? Would I really just be knocking off the designs of others all day? Would I not become a design god like I had hoped?

Thankfully, I decided to actually try out my teacher’s advice for my first project (a music app, in this case). As I began to explore Mobbin.design, I quickly realized that gaining inspiration from successful apps was not knocking them off at all.

Sure, if I decided to copy the Spotify user interface perfectly in Figma and call my app “Dotify”, then yes, that would qualify as a “knock off”. Most of the time, however, observing how popular apps deal with certain issues can actually be quite helpful.

Maybe, I want to understand how users most commonly create playlists on other music apps. After all, Spotify did not invent the concept of a playlist, and creating playlists on different music apps is quite a similar experience regardless of which one you use. If I was trying to be “original” for such a basic feature, I would just confuse users, and waste the time of my engineers.

In my life outside of work, I’ve come to realize that looking to others for inspiration can help you solve your own problems. Have a friend that’s always on-time? Maybe, ask her how she stays organized! Follow a YouTuber who’s job you envy? Maybe, watch their video on how to become a YouTuber, and start following their advice.

If your friend read the book Atomic Habits, READ it. If the YouTuber edits on Final Cut Pro, maybe start learning it? Just because you take bits of inspiration, it doesn’t mean you are boring and talentless. Instead, it means you are learning from those who are ahead of you.

That being said, we live in an age of information overload. Through gaining inspiration from people (or companies) who have achieved the results you want, you will save yourself time and unnecessary anxiety.

Over time, I have learned to consciously create a list of people who I go to for certain things: relationship advice, fitness, career, health etc. Through having this advisory board, I feel less overwhelmed with life’s challenges, and tend to achieve better results.

When seeking these people out, remember that it’s OK if you don’t know them personally. Sometimes, if you engage with the content of certain creators enough, you get a sense of how they would handle certain dilemmas you face.

This week, I encourage you to write down who you go to for advice vs. who you should actually go to for advice. Do you have too many people in your ear? Have they actually achieved the results you want?

In doing this, you won’t be reinventing the playlist — you’ll be creating a better one.

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Product designer / lecturer / artiste working in fashion e-commerce.

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Stephanie Irwin

Stephanie Irwin

Product designer / lecturer / artiste working in fashion e-commerce.

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