Good Designer’s Copy, Great Designer’s Steal?

Lately, I’ve had more of an urge to surf the net for some design inspiration, rather than talk about design on my blog. I’ve been frequenting StyleGala and various other CSS showcase sites; like CSS Beauty, CSS Import, CSS Thesis and CSS Drive. That’s a lot of great site designs to look through! Hence the lack of posts.

Interestingly, over on Damien’s site, some fella, called Luis Garcia, found the Coda design quite inspirational, and decided to steal the design. Not copy parts of it, he stole everything! Check it out for yourself.

This got me thinking. All web designer’s copy some design aspect from other designer’s websites, even if they don’t know it, they probably have. Some guy half way across the world has probably designed a very similar website, using very similar colours, very similar imagery, and very similar fonts.

There’s a great article over on Sitepoint, written by Cameron Moll, a well-known web designer, called “Good designer’s copy, great designer’s steal“. In this article, Moll tries to dissect what Pablo Picasso meant when saying, “Good artist’s copy, great artist’s steal”.

Most designers spend a considerable amount of time surfing the internet for great designs to learn from, and influence their own work. That’s not a crime. Gerry McGovern, a web copywriting guru that I have referenced a little lower writes, “Thereโ€™s a positive side effect to copying: conventionality. Building on the same foundation as other sites — specifically, layout and information architecture — often leads to intuitiveness and familiarity for the end user.”

Any designer would be quite chuffed, knowing their design is inspirational, and is influencing others designs. The keyword is inspirational though.

Where is the line? Obviously, Luis Garcia has crossed it. Why? Because his site design is blatant plagiarism.

Advice for Luis: copy the inspiration, not the outcome.

10 thoughts on “Good Designer’s Copy, Great Designer’s Steal?”

  1. When it comes to design, I scour those same sites, and use them as inspiration. Normally a site starts off by looking pretty similar to my choosen inspiration, but by the end the site looks and feels completely different.

    Thats what the inspiration is for… to get you going, but not to hold you at the end…

  2. Ethically, this is a tough question to answer. Morals vary widely from person to person and usually comes down to personal tastes. The law, on the other hand, makes for a poor moral compass on these matters but at least offers something a little bit more solid.

    Copyright law protects the expression of an idea, not the idea itself. In dealing with design that is a fine line.

    Say I look at your design, I like it and I emulate it. That’s fine so long as I don’t copy any of your code, text or images. If I don’t copy something that is material and “tangible” (meaning fixated) it’s not a violation of copyright law, though, most likely, a violation of common ethics.

    This means, for example, I could completely recreate your site from the ground up if I used none of the original code, images or copy (a good way to do this might be to use another markup language) and avoid copyright problems.

    While the ethics aren’t clear, the legal line is usually drawn at copying any actual code or files. Once you do that, you have crossed the line from inspiration to theft.

    Still, these are just rough rules and I am not a lawyer, just a legally-minded Webmaster that hates plagiarism.

  3. Didn’t someone say that imitation is the biggest form of flattery?

    Indeed there is however a line to be drawn if you’ve gone through all the time and trouble (tons of both) to get your site looking and working exactly as it should, then only to have it copied verbatim by someone else.

  4. I’m redesigning the site. Check back later…..

    Copying the whole thing is a bit tricky but grabbing snippets of CSS i have no problem with. To claim a peice of code as exclusively yours would be idiotic.

  5. Luis Garcia’s site has the same feel as coda.coza but Garcia’s is not a total replica. coda has a different background and navigation.
    Garcia has a green border on top and a Flickr gallery. Actually Garcia’s site looks better than coda.

    I think Garcia just made it look better. Kind of like the Japanese. They copy the automobiles from the U.S. and redesign it to look different, better and economical.

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