by Cesare Rocchi

On Stealing the Right Thing

by Cesare Rocchi

Tags: design

TLDR; Be wise in choosing what to copy/steal

Somehow we are all been fascinated by:

Good artists copy, great artists steal.

That’s a quote by Pablo Picasso often “stolen” by Steve Jobs to make his point. He put that in practice quite a few times, “copying” the guts of BSD, which became the foundation of Mac OS or “taking inspiration” from the groundbreaking work done at Xerox in the ‘80s. From the quote it is clear that the cool guy is the one who steals. I won’t argue on that, feel free to choose the way you prefer. Once you have chosen it, here is a question that locks you up: copying/stealing what?

This reflection starts from a recent bunch of emails where last-minute entrepreneurs wanted me to build the “next Whatsapp”. That was probably due to a series of tutorials I have written to build an iOS chat. That’s ok but: with all the great apps out there you take Whatsapp as a reference? That ugly looking, probably-based-on-a-non-sustainable-business-model app? I am aware it is probably the most famous but it’s also the most bloated, insecure and really hard to stand. So why copy/steal it? I would understand if it were unique, but there are tons of chat applications out there. So you could have said:

  • we wanna build something like iMessage but working better
  • we wanna build something like Skype, but cooler and with no voice
  • we wanna build something like Viber but with feature X
  • we wanna build something like check-the-mockup-attached

Picking the right example, the right thing to take inspiration from, should not be harder than picking between copying or stealing. Just get out there, and pick the best. I know I should not say this as a UX designer, but if you are new to the field and you have no idea, at least pick the “best looking”.

I myself poke other developers or designers with ideas or plans to collaborate. I might make some reference to other applications or services but I really put care in choosing the ones to mention. Whether I propose to steal or copy something, that something has to be good, if not great. During classworks, whom did you copy from? The first of the class, right? Thus …