Copying Design

The first and only orbital launch of the Soviet Shuttle Buran spacecraft occurred on 15 November 1988. Buran was also the name of the Space Program, created as an attempt to response to the U.S. Space Shuttle program.
The Buran spacecraft (Russian: Буран, “Snowstorm”), was designed following exactly the sames lines as the American Space Shuttle.
But not only the design of the Soviet spacecraft was the same, it would even use the same operational resources, being transported on the back of one of the biggest airplanes so far produced: The Antonov An-225 Mriya aircraft (as Americans did using the huge Boeing 747, the “Jumbo Jet”).

This is an image of the former Buran:

And this is another one of the Endeavour, one of the orbiters of the NASA´s Space Shuttle…

Due to lack of funds, after the first flight, the Soviet project was suspended. There were several attempts to maintain the space project, but it was finally cancelled in 1993 by former President, Mr. Boris Yeltsin.

Till now, there haven´t been relevant complaints from the Americans about the Soviet replica. Nowadays, the NASA’s Space Shuttle is running using different orbiters (Discovery, Atlantis, Endeavour or TBD) as if nothing had happened.

This huge attempt to copy an existing design reminded me of some projects I worked for as an Interaction Designer, where it was put on the table the risk of being copied by others. Maybe we cannot compare a space program with a humble project related to interface design. But some ideas came to my mind and I found interesting to share them here:

  • Copying Design is not a bad attitude. Every designer get references out there for inspiration (are we copying when we use a radio-button, or a drop-down box?);
  • You´re not a bad designer if you “copy” and idea. Good designers “scan” the idea in their minds and try to translate it onto the interface problem in a different way. That´s maybe the key to improve what already exits. Designers do benchmarking, of course;
  • From my experience, people who bother in copying exactly what they see without expending any extra second to improve the experience are wasting their time. Every single interface suits only on one single space, there are lot of reasons for this (business, technology, users, proceedures, etc…). Probably, what it works “here” won´t work “there” unless you adapt it properly;
  • “Full Copiers” are normally involved on projects with lack of resources (not only money related, but also creative related);
  • Be proud of yourself when you see an exact mirror of your interface. That means that yours works, that your interface is somehow state of the art design and serves as a reference;
  • This situation should inspire you, instead of wasting your time worrying about why people has this attitude, use this feeling to keep on innovating. This will maintain you separate from the rest of your competence.

As I already said before, these thoughts are inspired on my own experience. I suppose that there might be people who don´t agree with my position. I would be glad to hear from them too.

OT: I simply love to see the launch of these shuttles. The one below is the launch of the STS-115 Space Shuttle Atlantis, on 27th August 2006, at the Kennedy Space Center (Youtube Video, 2:13min). Maybe you might use it for your own inspiration: