Source: UX Myths
When you copy, you don’t know the reasons behind a design, you’re not responding directly to your customer needs, you’re devaluing your own data.
Joshua Porter, Copycat Design
I will admit having looked to Amazon, and other high-traffic sites as a point of authority on certain design patterns. If I might not know where to start – with a product page, for example – then I begin with a reference, but remain en garde about what I choose to carry over to a wireframe. I always try to take a slice of design that I suspect is effective and boil it down; deducing what it is that works about a page element that catches my eye. I make it a point of practice to audit other designs of the same category and see what is repeated among the most effective. Typically the point I eventually arrive at is a “best practice” or slight variation. This may be a roundabout approach to design discovery, when you could just research best practices alone, but I feel this circumspect method gives me more context of how a certain “best practice” can take form, and eventually feel more confident about its use in my own design.
I know that’s a really long way to say that I actually do research, instead of steal, but I think it’s important to say that you shouldn’t avert yours eyes per se from some sites with the longevity of Amazon. A huge user base will let them get away with poor design decisions, but it also means that the same large group of users have also been exposed to certain design patterns several times. Some designers want only to innovate, and I can understand that desire to leave your mark and constantly improve, but I’m of the Steve Krug camp that believes some innovation to be good, but different for the sake of different will leave users confused.
You’ll likely shoot yourself in the foot if you just pull something straight out of an Amazon or Facebook, but look at the design and ask yourself “why is this better than this?”