Understand the reason for the madness, before you imitate it


Have you had the instance where someone in your product development team says during a product discussion – make it like the Google home page, or make it work like Amazon does it, or see how well IBM’s website does it. If they are doing it, they should be right.

It is easy to fall into this trap – because it is easy to look at someone else’s art work and try to imitate it. But resist the temptation. Take a long breath, step back and ask your selves the following questions:

1) Are my users the same as Google, Amazon, IBM,…..?

2) Are my users trying to achieve the same objectives on my website as the shoppers are on Amazon?

3) Do I have the same web authority as these sites that I am being referenced to? For example, Google does not have to worry about Search Engine Optimization, they are the search engine. They can afford to have a simple white home page with a few minimal links and a large search box. If you or I do this for our home pages, we will not exist as far as search engines are concerned and hence for our prospects and customers.

So before you copy or imitate someone else’s madness, make sure you find out if the madness even applies to you and even if it does,  do you understand the reason behind the madness? Why are they doing what they are doing? Do you really know if it will work for your users? And then after all this, if you think what the Googles or the Amazons or the IBM’s of the world are doing is what will work best for your users, go for it, imitate it (as long as you don’t violate patents and copyright laws – remember the Amazon lawsuit about 1-click ordering?).

All these personal opinions can be put to rest by doing a simple usability testing on these reference sites with a small sample of your users (say 5-10). Or mockup your site using the UI principles shown on these sites and then see if it will work – data will not lie. And people with strong personal opinions often disappear when presented with real user data.

One thought on “Understand the reason for the madness, before you imitate it

  1. Gopal: good thoughts! I think that at one time or another we’ve all been tempted to copy our completion just because we fear failing so much.

    In terms of things like web sites and UIs, I think one reason that we have so many problems is because we think that we have to get it right the first time. If we can find ways to be constantly improving what we have then we’d be on the road to perfection.

    – Dr. Jim Anderson
    The Accidental PM Blog
    “Home Of The Billion Dollar Product Manager”

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