Why You Shouldn't Use Competitor Design as a Benchmark

authentic design
authentic design
authentic design
authentic design


Aug 24, 2023


7 min read

Meris Imamović

Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses. Your competitor’s design is not your benchmark.

Many teams get caught up in what their competitors are doing. Yes, the competitor analysis is important and should be a part of your research. Yes, you should know what your competitors are offering so you could do something different and unique. But, don’t make that a priority. Your goal shouldn’t be to have a better design than your main competitor. There are numerous reasons to ‘not try to keep up with the Joneses’.

Different Stages

Your competitors may not be in the same maturity stage. Picture startups like these living creatures going through their own unique stages of growth. Think of it as going from scribbling down ideas to taking those first wobbly steps, and then maturing into a full-blown superhero.

Now, imagine trying to match up a tiny, fresh-out-of-the-oven startup with a big, established player in the field. It's a bit like comparing a pineapple to a spaceship – they're just in totally different leagues.

See, these startups have their own secret sauces, like strategies, resources, and dreams. But these things vary so much depending on where they are in their journey. The core idea here is that these comparisons do not provide a comprehensive overview. They resemble a single moment captured without the complete context. Therefore, while it may be informative to observe the actions of others, it is crucial to recall that your startup possesses its distinct approach. Your objectives, obstacles, and methods are individual and they should stay that way.

Wasting Energy and Resources

Wasting energy and resources on copying a competitor's design can have detrimental effects on both the short-term and long-term success of a startup.

In the startup arena, opportunities arise and fade quickly. Each day wasted on emulating a competitor is a day lost to seize short-term prospects for growth. The agile competition is continually evolving, and startups need to pivot swiftly to remain relevant. Time is a finite and precious resource. Copying a competitor's design prolongs the resource drain. Startups expend not only money and effort but also critical time that could have been used to iterate and enhance their own unique solutions. This rapid pace makes it essential for startups to allocate resources appropriately.

The time and effort spent on copying a design could have been used more effectively for other essential tasks such as product development, marketing, or customer acquisition. In the short term, this diversion of focus can lead to missed opportunities for growth and market capture.

Comparing with competitors can be resource-intensive. Startups may allocate a significant amount of time, money, and manpower to mimic a design without fully understanding its nuances. This immediate drain of resources can strain the startup's finances, potentially limiting its ability to address other critical needs.

If a startup rigidly follows a competitor's design, it may struggle to adapt quickly to changing market conditions or user preferences. The short-term fixation on imitation can make the startup less nimble in responding to emerging challenges or opportunities.

Emulating a competitor's design can dilute a startup's unique identity. Building a brand that stands out requires a design that reflects the startup's values, mission, and vision. If a startup simply copies a competitor, it risks becoming indistinguishable, making it harder to build a loyal customer base.

Over time, relying on copied designs can make a startup overly dependent on competitors' strategies. If the competitor changes direction or faces difficulties, the startup might struggle to adapt, leaving it vulnerable to market shifts.

In essence, the short-term and long-term harm from copying a competitor's design lies in the misallocation of resources, missed opportunities, diminished innovation, and the erosion of a startup's unique identity. In the race for success, startups must remain acutely aware of the fleeting nature of time and use it judiciously to foster innovation, cultivate uniqueness, and navigate the competitive landscape effectively. To thrive in the competitive business landscape, startups must invest their energy and resources wisely, focusing on developing their own innovative solutions that resonate with their target audience.

Different User Base

Startups often serve different groups of users than well-established businesses. These differences can include things like age, where people live, their culture, and even what they like or dislike. So, if a startup copies the design of a competitor completely, they might not think about these differences. This can lead to a design that doesn't connect well with the startup's own customers.

Also, how people use a product and what they like can depend on their specific situation. What works really well for one group of users might be hard to use or not liked by another group. This can be a big problem if a startup just copies a competitor without thinking about their own users.

Instead of just looking at what competitors do, startup founders should do thorough research on their own users. This helps them understand what their own customers need and like. By doing this, they can create a design that's a perfect fit for their unique group of users.

Limited Information

Think of a startup as a detective trying to solve a puzzle. A competitor's design is just a small piece of the much bigger puzzle that makes up their entire strategy. Depending only on a competitor's design for inspiration is like trying to sail through dangerous waters with a map that's missing crucial parts. To really understand how effective the design is, you need to have a deep understanding of the competitor's whole business plan, the research they've done on their customers, and where they stand in the industry. To make smart decisions about design, you need to see everything, not just a small part. This means understanding not only how something looks but also how it fits into the bigger picture.

When startups rely solely on what they see in a competitor's design, they run the risk of making really important decisions based on incomplete and sometimes wrong information. This lack of information can lead to bad choices and can even stop them from coming up with new and creative ideas. More about this under the next headline.

Holding Back Innovation

True innovation often comes from thinking outside the box and trying new things. When you're too focused on copying the competition, you may miss the opportunities to create unique and groundbreaking designs that set your startup apart.

Innovation is the lifeblood of startups. It propels them forward, fostering differentiation in a competitive landscape. Yet, seeking design inspiration solely from competitors directly influences the innovation engine.

When startups use a competitor's design as a benchmark, they recklessly confine themselves to established industry norms. The inherent risk is that they may replicate existing solutions, suppressing the creativity necessary to carve a niche in the market. True innovation often arises from the synergy of diverse ideas and perspectives, not by following well-trodden paths.

Imitation often stifles innovation. Startups that copy a competitor's design might not invest the time and creativity needed to develop unique solutions. Over the long term, this can hinder a startup's ability to differentiate itself in the market and develop a competitive edge.

Instead of leading in your market, focusing on competitors' designs can make your startup seem like a follower rather than an innovator. Being a copycat can harm your brand's reputation and long-term success.


In the highly competitive startup landscape, uniqueness is often a key differentiator. Entrepreneurs embark on the startup journey to bring innovative solutions to the market. By borrowing too heavily from a competitor's design, startups risk diluting their own distinctive identity.

When people start a new business, they usually want to offer something new and different to customers. This helps them stand out and be successful. But if they copy things from another business's design, they might end up looking like that business instead of being unique. This can be a problem for a startup because it should strive to be special and attract its own customers.

So, it's important for startups to be creative and make their own style instead of copying someone else too much. Being different is what can make a startup successful because it gives people a reason to choose them over others.

Let’s wrap up

In conclusion, startups should exercise caution when considering a competitor's design as a blueprint for their own. While it may be tempting to follow in the footsteps of established players, the distinctiveness of a startup's user base and the contextual nature of design effectiveness demand a more thoughtful approach. Through diligent user research, startups can create designs that not only stand out but also genuinely connect with their unique group of users. Ultimately, this user-centric design approach can be a pivotal factor in a startup's journey toward success in the competitive business landscape.

Creating a brand that stands out requires a design that reflects the startup's values, mission, and vision. Startups should strive for designs that capture the essence of their offering and convey it uniquely to their target audience. A mere emulation of a competitor's design can undermine these efforts, leaving the startup lost in the sea of similarity.

In the world of business, being unique is like having your own special flavor. It's what makes you, well, you! So, startup founders should think carefully about their design and how it can make them stand out in a crowd.

Believe in your own startup’s groove. Embrace where you are. Remember, comparing apples to oranges might be fun in a fruit salad, but in the startup world, your oranges have their own fantastic flavor.

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