Stop Settling for Trying to Be Someone Else

I’ve already written about this topic (see: Copying Doesn’t Hurt Me, It Hurts You) but I want to look at it from a different angle. 

Our church website is copied a lot. I’m not saying that in a prideful manner, but simply as a stated fact. I get a “hey, this looks familiar” email at least once a week. As a Christian and a church staffer, I’m mostly on board with it — “same team” we often say. There’s no competitive advantage for us to have a unique website, because this isn’t the marketplace; we’re not competing with other churches. We want to see them succeed. But as a designer, as someone who is passionate about clear communications, it makes me sad.

When you copy an existing site you probably get a decent end-product, but you don’t know why. This is about more than copying design/visual cues, it concerns me to see churches borrowing copywriting style and information architecture. Why? Because you’re borrowing a voice and thought process that isn’t you. When I see a site with the same user flow as ours, all I can think is, “you don’t know why we did that. Your people are probably different.” The way we’re structured, the way we communicate and plan events, the kind of things our communicator(s) say, they’re all different than you. Not better, just different.

But if you homogenize the end-product without understanding the process that led to the original, your website will reflect who you actually are less and less. You’ll keep being you in person, because you can’t help it. But your website will be someone else. And that dissonance is eventually perceivable. A website is the first impression most people have of you; will their physical interactions with your brand feel like the same thing? 

Just be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.

Oscar Wilde

By all means, look at others to learn. Ask questions. But ask the right questions. Ask why something is the way it is, don’t just accept it as globally good. Don’t just look at our website (or anyone else’s) and copy it. They’re not you. And being you at every touchpoint is far more valuable than having a slick website.