There’s a certain gravity towards websites and applications we use everyday. Google, Facebook, Wikipedia, Twitter, Yahoo… there’s a few dozen that would fit into this category. Often times, we find our colleagues and sometime even ourselves seeking to directly mimic the interfaces of these larger sites. These large sites get a huge amount of traffic and get refined and specific quantitative data about what works and doesn’t work for their user base.
It’s not invalid to start investigation by ‘seeing how other did it’. There’s a point however where inspiration turns into direct mimicry.
Most smaller teams are focusing on a specific audience or market, and these large applications are only accounting for their users, which are more diverse. These other platforms have different functionality sets, different business models, and their users have different expectations and needs, and very different motivations for using their products.
It’s good to brainstorm ideas by looking at what these large sites and what your competitors have done to solve these problems. But your project is unique. It deserves to have its own process, its own research conducted, its own design; and who better to do it than you?