In IA Practice
Summary: Why is imitation a common website strategy for companies instead of innovation? Because companies often don't know how to evaluate what a good site is.

One of the biggest challenges modern companies face is making their products or services visible and competitive online. We often see companies imitate successful competitors, like retail companies who copy Amazon’s user interface. This often results in sites that actually don’t work very well, and in fact, make a website worse in terms of overall performance.

picture of baby imitating dad

Imitation is cute when it’s a baby! https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Why is imitation such a common strategy for companies? The reasons are usually due to some real challenges:

  • Often companies worry they wouldn’t be able to afford an original design, so borrowing is better.
  • It’s very common for the leaders of a company to not have the expertise to develop complex websites, so they follow the biggest gorilla in the landscape.
  • The Internet remains new relative to other parts of a business, and many companies don’t really really know what success or failure looks like.

In short, companies often don’t know how to evaluate what good is, how to design towards that goal, and how to determine if they were successful.

This is an unnerving spot to be in. Usually it’s a reflection of the challenges as experienced by the executive or manager charged with the company’s success. But the manager isn’t supposed to be the final expert on these things; indeed, great managers really can’t be specialists in such fast-moving water.

Understand What “Good” Is

What is important, in all things, is for the manager to start with a few questions. Who can help lead the company in the strategic directions it needs to be successful? How do you measure what that success looks like? How do you tell if a site is “good?”

For us at The Understanding Group, “good” digital spaces are:

  • In clear alignment across the organization.
  • In service to your essential mission and identity.
  • Created with clear and enduring links to your customers and the work they wish to do.

It’s hard to be a arbiter of “good” directly, but with some help and general guidelines it’s a goal your company can reach.

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