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Great Designers Steal?

Design, Web Design | Jul 6, 2009

You often hear designers say, “Good designers copy. Great designers steal.”

Well, anyone who says this is one of three types of designers:

One who copies, one who steals or one who admits that not copying and stealing is hard but still tries not to anyway.

For some reason, a lot of web designers believe that there’s nothing truly unique left to create and that there is no such thing as originality.

I disagree, or at least I don’t want to accept that notion. You shouldn’t either.

 

Designers who copy

These people are at the bottom of the design pyramid, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You have to start somewhere.

Designers who copy are novices who haven’t yet grasped what makes a great design great, and so they imitate.

They frequent web galleries, pick a site they like and find a way to recreate and adapt it to the project at hand. This is how anyone learns anything. In fact, this is how we learn to, among other things, walk and talk as babies. We imitate to build a foundation of experience.

My very first website was a fan site for the anime Dragon Ball Z, which I loved as a kid. In the process of creating this site, I taught myself HTML by copying the code from another Dragon Ball Z site that I liked.

I literally copied and pasted all of the code, but then I went through it line by line, learning what each tag did. By the time I designed my next site, I was able not only to understand code but to create my own code from scratch.

 

Designers who steal

These are, of course, the people who say, “Good designers copy. Great designers steal.” Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch once said:

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light, and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery; celebrate it if you feel like it.”

This sums up these burglars well. Once a designer has copied another’s design and feel they have a grasp of what makes a great design great, their natural inclination is to go and create their own great and unique design.

But they soon discover that doing that is not as easy as the other designer made it seem. They learn that the dirty secret of many great designers is that they steal.

In design, to steal is to take inspiration from other people’s work. Designers who steal may frequent online design galleries, like designers who copy, but they know how to hide their sources.

“The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.” —Albert Einstein


They take only pieces of sites or just the overall concept or theme of something. In 2003, designer Cameron Moll wrote an article titled  “Good Designers Copy, Great Designers Steal” in which he shows the source of a logo he created.

Moll explains:

“The chances of someone else having used this particular piece of clip art were very slim. And the chances of the intended audience — or anyone else, for that matter — being familiar with such a piece were even slimmer. Translation? A perfect source for stealing.”

 

Designers who try not to copy or steal

It’s a fact that we can’t help but be influenced by our surroundings. Designers steal all the time without realizing it.

A designer may look at the curvy lines of Moll’s logo above and months later may create a logo very similar to it without actually recalling where they got the idea from.

Designers in this category are aware of this habit. They know that creating something truly unique is almost impossible, but they try anyway.

To try, they may start by looking at online print galleries, instead of web galleries. They may also begin looking at package design, architecture, photography, nature—anything but web design—in an attempt to be authentically inspired rather than simply steal.

They look not just for design that works but rather for ways to make designs better.

After walking around a park in search of inspiration for a blog on nature, a designer may find him or herself using images of grass and soil to dress up the footer of the site to look like ground. They might add some birds to the header.

Or, after sitting on a bench and noticing the relationship between foreground and background, they might play around with the user’s sense of perception.

The further a designer who seeks inspiration moves away from web design, the more likely their designs will turn out truly original.

 

To sum up…

The pursuit of originality on the web is not a lost cause. The web industry is still young, and some things have yet to be attempted.

Once you understand the basics of design, try to think outside the box, and try new and different things. Be atypical and unique. Experiment. Don’t be afraid to design from the heart. But keep this in mind:

“Things which are different in order to be different are seldom better, but that which is made to be better is almost always different.” —Dieter Rams

In our striving to be unique and original, trying different things for their own sake is okay because they could potentially lead to better things. It’s a lot like throwing darts at a target blindfolded. You may never hit the target, but you just might learn something in the process. But do try hard to make something better than just different.

Not too long ago, people thought the Earth was flat and the center of the universe. Not too long ago, either, designers used the <blink> tag and used tables to build websites.

Theories and conventions are always being questioned, challenged and broken, and they should. If you believe a better way is possible, you will often find your way to it.

“The most innovative designers consciously reject the standard option box and cultivate an appetite for thinking wrong.” —Marty Neumeier




Written exclusively for WDD by Lucian Tucker.

What type of designer are you? Please leave your comments below…


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  • angemy

    wow a great post here. Makes me sit and reflect on my design habits, and how I can improve to create something new!

    Thanks!

  • http://aaronhalford.com Aaron

    “For some reason, a lot of web designers believe that there’s nothing truly unique left to create and that there is no such thing as originality.”

    If this is the case, a lot of people need new careers.

    • Amanda

      Your avatar looks awfully familiar ;)

      • http://rez.co.uk Rez

        Haha…I agree – you didnt look very far to steal that logo dude. Maybe consideer plumbing as a new venture.

      • http://www.gotryke.com Chuck

        HAHAHAHAA, nice.

    • http://ardianzzz.com ArdianZzZ

      Hahah… cool gravatar dude.. ;)

  • http://www.metropoliscreative.com Michael Flint

    I tend to subscribe to the “temporary steal” during the creative process. I like to copy ideas as closely as I see fit while creative concepting. I censor nothing. I’ll look at an ad or logo and ask “Why does this work – or what makes it unique?” And then copy that technique – sometimes verbatim. Then I move onto the next sketch.

    During the creative process, the concept changes, gets combined with another, or is improved upon. It’s great to show those sketches to someone else and get their interpretation of them. Inevitably, it evolves into something else. If for some reason it doesn’t, then we intentionally change it or don’t use it because 1) Who wants to re-hash someone’s design no matter how good it is? And 2) It’s just wrong to steal.

    So, yes – stealing is wrong. But in the early creative process, I think it’s fine to imitate what works well.

    • http://luciantucker.com Lucian Tucker

      You said: “I’ll look at an ad or logo and ask ‘Why does this work – or what makes it unique?’”

      I do that too. That’s always important. If you are going to copy or steal, never grab it because everyone else is doing it — ask why does it work first.

      This reminds me of great quote I recently read: “Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.” -Matsuo Basho

  • http://www.parisvega.com/ Paris Vega

    I try not to steal by making sure that each project goes through a process of research, sketching, and THEN designing. I think sketching is a critical part of coming up with original ideas.

  • http://a.parsons.edu/~lucis270 Steve Lucin

    Great Article!

    I feel like I am a designer that still copies, yet steals at time because i get away with the design looking original because the target audience is not used to it.

    Regardless, I ALWAYS try to remix things that i see around me.

    Copy. Paste. Remix. Design.

    • http://luciantucker.com Lucian Tucker

      Thanks for the compliment on the article. “Remixing” is a good way to go when you’re just starting out, but try to work towards remixing to make it better, as opposed to just making it different.

  • Jim

    Sourcing is not stealing. Using someone else’s design for inspiration and as a starting point is perfectly fine. Using someone else’s design as is, is stealing. But, never, never is sourcing the same as stealing!

    • http://luciantucker.com Lucian Tucker

      The way I put it, using someone else design as is, is “copying.” Copying, and stealing, are both sourcing. The difference, as Einstien and Moll point out, is people who steal know how to hide their sources.

  • http://www.orphicpixel.com Mars

    sometimes designers are only follow what the client wants

  • http://www.insidethewebb.com/ Jake Rocheleau

    It’s true that a lot of designers steal ideas from other designers, but the really good designers tweak them enough to become their own unique and creative pieces of work. I think that’s how great design is born.

  • http://www.sethetter.com Seth Etter

    Great read! I agree with a lot of what is said.

    It is difficult nowadays to really create something that someone can’t look at and recognize elements from it they have seen other places. But the pursuit for this can never end!

    There still do exist those who are innovative enough to really create something groundbreaking, yet once it’s done, that great technique will be copied and reapplied over and over until something else new and groundbreaking is discovered. The cycle is endless.

    The way I see it is much like the Jim Jarmusch quote above, you must take in inspiration from everything that really communicates with you, and reflect in your designs what you interpret as beauty. :)

  • agilius

    Great article, I must admit.

    Let’s say this: on our lovely planet, no one has ever created anything, has never invented anything, we simply discovered what was already possible.

    This is such a general rule that it applies to everything in our nature. When it comes to designing, I believe that all the successful designers out there, and I say successful while thinking at well promoted, working full time and earning steady income people, are the ones that steal the most. For example, I know that I always go on those site galleries and try to find out what type of effect, colors and header idea would go best with the information architecture that I have for my client. The funny thing is.. it never turns out to be the same or even similar to the sources of my inspiration. Why? Because just like in the illuminism -or how is it called- in painting, the same way 1px inner glow with vivid light 50~75% is a way of making something stand out and something stand down.

    What I am trying to say is that this so called inspiration is simply a way of choosing the style of the design. That is the fact for the true designers in my opinion, and I don’t see it a stealing.

    • http://www.artover.com Bryan

      wow! Well said. I totally agree with you.

  • riki

    I think it was Picasso who said

    Amateur’s copy, Professionals steal

    • bryan350

      yea, i read that somewhere and then then banksy crossed it out and took credit for the quote.

  • http://www.2dforever.com Tom

    I can’t help but think you’re taking a fun quote and looking too far into it. Inspiration is all around us and we take it in like it or not.

    There was a fantastic ‘experiment’ with the annoying English illusionist, Darren Brown, where he took two designers on a drive around London around specific sites. He met them later and asked them to design a logo for him on X subject. He could predict everything they did in the design because of the journey route they took on they way there. It included things like the large gates from a zoo, a big bear from one of the shops etc etc.

    Anyway, those who take that as some kind of designer gospel is silly to do so. I like to think of it as a friendly way to remind yourself that inspiration is everywhere.

  • http://www.freedomstudios.co.za Graham

    What a lot of food for thought!

    I guess it is more difficult to come up with something truly original (if possible) but I suddenly feel more inspired to try.

    There is also that fine line between intentionally and unintentionally stealing. Like the article suggests, we sometimes do it without even realising it. It’s probably part of what makes us human I guess?

  • http://dougbarned.co.uk Doug Barned

    Back in university (2004, Leeds, UK) the prolific designer, Bob Gill, gave a guest lecture. One section started simply stating: “The first rule of design – Steal!”

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lena_salgansky/sets/ Lena

    Wow, very inspiring article!

  • http://eveltdesign.com joel k.

    I used to swamp images with JavaScript, until I came across a free web template that taught me to merely change bg-position in css.

    is this copying or steeling? in my opinion it’s good ‘ol learning.
    using drop downs or slide outs you “borrowed” is not called steeling, it’s the way the internet works.

    “The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.” —Albert Einstein
    you don’t have to be Einstein to say this; all along evolution people took other people’s stuff and made it better, nicer, more efficient.
    just make sure that you’re not all the time at the receiving end of inspiration, give and take.

  • http://www.crearedesign.co.uk Adam

    As long as you don’t cpy it directly it’s not a problem. Sometimes I start with something similar to what someone else has done, but by the time I’ve modified it, it looks totally different.

  • http://www.tylershaqiri.com Tyler

    This is one of the best articles on here.

    The same way you learned web design through Dragon Ball Z, I learned it from copying code EXACTLY like you. I sat down and changed attributes and saw what each change made to the screen.

    I’ve given up the concept of originality a long time ago, especially in web design.
    The bottom line is, if it works for your project (s), it works!
    Where the inspiration came, was it flat out copying, and all that stuff REALLY does not matter. No one cares!

  • http://www.ksmithdesign.de Kevin Smith

    At the moment I’m oscillating between copying and stealing. There are so many things (techniques, concepts, etc.) that I like and I always wonder how it feels to create something alike.

  • http://feathertail.livejournal.com/ Jared Spurbeck

    “Graham” is right. Human beings are naturally inclined to share, improve, remix and reuse. That’s what we’ve always done, from fireside tales to DBZ fanfiction. When we see something that we think is “unique,” we congratulate its creators from “breaking out of the mold” … but it’s rare that we realize how much iteration it’s gone through, or what its inspirations were.

    The only reason we’re even having this discussion about “stealing” is because our laws are so artificial. We grant people temporary monopolies over a particular thought, expression or pattern, and then call it “stealing” to create your own version of that — even though nobody loses anything, and everyone benefits. People naturally learn by imitating things, as you yourself said, and reinventing the wheel for the sake of being different is wasteful.

    Maybe what we need to protect is not “intellectual property” but identity — don’t copy one person’s logo, because it identifies them — and attribution — “this work was inspired by this other one.” Copying somebody else’s trademarks dilutes their brand recognition, and causes direct harm to them. And it always frustrates me when I watch an amazing AMV or FFXI video on YouTube, and they don’t say where the music came from. I imagine that I’d be doubly frustrated if it was my music they used without crediting me.

  • http://dusanvf.com Dusan Vlahovic

    It’s temting to go see a gallery site to get inspired, but i think that it’s much better to get inspirations from other sources like photography, music, nature, etc. Good article.

    • agilius

      Yeah, nature, music and intense social life tend to help a lot with the design process. I think it’s about the mood more ;)

  • David Riveroll

    The hardest thing is when the client insists that they don’t want anything innovative, they want you to copy this or that

    • Spence

      That’s when you say it’s unethical, stealing, and they’ll rot in hell. :)

  • http://www.altograu.eu/portfolio Sérgio Soares

    I’m a perfect example of the content of this post.
    I started studying multimedia for the past 2 years and like u said we learn by copy and trying. In fact, now i’m building my design blog and in some points of the blog i have to go looking for examples for several things i wanted to do. Ur blog was inspirational to me.
    Good post. Good work
    Cheers from Portugal

  • http://www.tulsa-signs.com Tulsa signs

    As a sign designer I was taught to keep a morgue file.
    Bits and scraps of designs that I liked.
    I would use these as inspiration when coming up with a new design.
    I wouldn’t necessarily copy a design exactly, but I may use a similar theme or shape.

    This is how I learned what good design is until I was able to develop my own style.

    Moreover, in sign design anyway, there are known concepts that give the design “legibility” and impact. These were determined by testing letter size, fonts, contrast, color etc..
    In other words, these design concepts were determined by statistics and not by what someone “thinks” looks good.

    I like this definition of Legibility:
    >2. Also called visibility. Typography. the quality of type that affects the perceptibility of a word, line, or paragraph of printed matter. Compare readability (def. 2).

    I like perceptibility or “readability”.

    If the message is difficult to read due to lack of good design principles,
    it probably won’t get read at all.

    Some designers think that “good” design is a subjective thing.
    I disagree.
    Good Design means your message attracts attention, is easy to understand, and conveys the precise meaning that you intend.

    Maybe I’m missing the goal.
    I don’t always try to make some totally unique design.
    I try to make the message read.
    And since each message is different, it becomes unique.

  • http://www.monofactor.com Onur Oztaskiran

    The phrase is a little missing. Stealing, literally stealing is as we all know, crime.

    So what I always say (and follow) is “Bad designers steal, good designers copy, great designers steal ideas“.

    Isn’t stealing an idea what we call “inspiration” anyways.

    Humble opinions :)

  • http://www.hollisbartlett.com Hollis Bartlett

    The problem with web design is that good usability design dictates that you pretty well have to copy conventions like logo top left, navigation top horizontal or left sidebar, decent contrast for fonts, use safe fonts like Arial and Times, etc. You can’t come up with totally original designs all the time because it will sacrifice the intended use, which is in the end people being able to find information easily. If you’re too innovative, too far from normal, your design will get in the way of the whole purpose of the website.

    Design is not art. Design conveys a message to be sure, but the intended use dictates that conventions should be followed. Design is a vehicle for information (web design, anyway). Art, on the other hand, is the message itself, and can be anything it wants to be.

  • http://carlnunes.com carlnunes

    Honest articles, like this one, are the future of the web. Smart people know lies and bogus information when we read them. Keep it up WDD!

    I am struggling with my designs; as I am never satisfied with them. So I will use lots of “assets” like: old, random clip art(ie:the bird at theyellowpelican[dot]com), silhouettes in old photos, etc . . . Basically graphical assets that are unlikely to be stealing or caught if I use them.

    • Train Fan

      Ever work for Canadian National Railroad?

  • http://www.dominiondigital.com Darrell Estabrook

    I believe this is the wrong question, and therefore the article concludes with the wrong answer.

    It is not a matter of stealing or not stealing–there are a number of great comments which brought to light there are no true unique ideas. I say there is no piece of artwork which ever was that does not point to something of inspiration (and thereby “being stolen”). The issue is about where an individual is on the spectrum of creative talent.

    The “designers who copy” are at the low end of the spectrum and are really designers who have limited to no creative talent. Their new ideas are limited to what they can literally see in front of them, and they possibly, and gingerly, alter one quality of the design (i.e. color) and call it their own.

    The “designers who steal” are the mid range on the spectrum. Their creative thought is such where they can assemble elements from many sources of inspiration to come up with something different. This group can range from the very literal copying folks at the low end, to those who come up with something seemingly new and the high end. I believe the majority of professional designers are on the mid to high end of this part of the spectrum.

    The highest end of the spectrum are those who truely have a mind to seemingly formulate new ideas from “nothing”. These individuals are called “innovators”, “ground-breakers”, and “original thinkers”, but the reality is that these people have not come up with something new. They have taken previous ideas and reapplied them in a totally new way. These people are just as inspired as the rest of us (i.e. have the same resources for inspiration available) but their minds are such that they can be extremely creative with less of these resources.

    Just a note: “copying” and “stealing” used for learning should not be looked down upon, however passing someone else’s work off as your own is unprofessional and is simply lying to yourself and others. If you are at the low end of the spectrum, your talent may lay somewhere other than creative design.

    The “designers who try to copy but not steal” is red herring as I’ve shown since the real issue is recognizing where you are on the spectrum of creative talent.

    So what is the conclusion of the matter? Realize where you are on the spectrum of creative talent and use that as a launch point to grow your talent. You may ultimately hit a ceiling, but know that there is always someone in need of your talent at that level in the spectrum. That’s not a bad thing–you should pour your heart into whatever you do and strive for excellence.

  • http://zaana.wordpress.com Zaana

    Great read – thanks!

    I remember in Art School it was always about ‘referencing’ others, and in fact, the more you ‘referenced’ the better as it showed an understanding and practical knowledge of the art world. It is not so much copying or stealing but using others ideas, concepts, some recognisable elements and underlying foundations to their work, but ‘adapting it to be your own’.

    So I agree with Jim Jarmusch’s quote however think ‘steal’ is too harsh, I would change it to reference others…and don’t bother concealing your referencing, celebrate it – and celebrate those who have inspired you.

  • agilius

    I’m glad to see that the majority agrees with the idea that designers -not newbies who just got a torrent version of photoshop and want to show off – are learning from the others.

    This is one of the most interesting debate via post comments ever! Great job with the article Lucian;)

  • http://www.yahoo.com Samboy

    Hmm Great Article!

    But the saddest part is, I have even read this article before on another blog.
    Not only designs are copied but everything..

    Anyway its new for so many here.. Same way designs are..

    Just wanted to say its a nice article though! :)

  • http://www.simonday.com Simon Day

    This is an interesting post. All my work now is original but I’m lucky enough to be paid the correct amount of money to spend the time doing it. An original site usually takes me 4 to 8 weeks to create (sketches – block wireframes – visual wireframes – usability checks – build).

    I will admit that when I was down the lower end of the scale where the client wanted a full blown ecommerce site for 100 pounds and I was desperate for the cash I did cut corners. I never copied a site in its entirety but I did draw upon many ideas and layouts when creating a site. Back then I simply could not afford designers-block and when you’re churning out site after site for next to nothing the “staring blankly at a blank canvas” issue does happen quite often.

    I always wanted original sites but I didn’t have many clients who would pay me the extra time it takes to make them. Thankfully now I can be very choosy :-)

  • DieselAdv

    You may call it what you want but stealing is stealing. To quote David Ogilvy “Don’t be a copy cat. Nobody has ever built a brand by imitating somebody else’s advertising. Imitation may be the ‘sincerest form of plagiarism,’ but it is also the mark of an inferior person.”

    I must agree with Darrell Estabrook and his analysis of the creative spectrum. I have been a designer for 23 years and a Creative Director for about 15 years. When I design, I work out those non-cognitive ideas, eliminating them as they surface. Oh yes, they always there, but it takes a good designer to be aware that they are in fact there and just how much they influence you in the early stages of a design.

    This is why I maintain it is impossible to come up with six or seven so-called original designs in a short period of time. You have not taken the time to eliminate, you have not gone through the regurgitation process and you’re just rehashing. A serious professional has to strive for originality but it is NEVER a comfortable process. The more you stretch yourself the more painful it is, but the end result is you push the bounds of creativity.

    However smashing paradigms is not what this is about since you run the risk of destroying that vital link between you and your target audience. It is working within the boundaries while applying the universal principles that make design work. it is also important to understand that people change. What may have been instantly (and I mean instantly) readable to a 1967 viewer of an Avalon Ballroom Poster is not even seen as typography by most designers today (see here: http://tinyurl.com/n9fpur).

    Cheers, Brian

  • http://www.webdevtuts.net Marcell

    There is absolutely no way you could design over 10 websites without stealing an idea from another website. In my eyes a website consist mainly of 2 shapes, Squares and rectangles. and we need design ideas to create dynamic webpages so we look at others website to think of art to go over the squares and rectangles.

    whenever someone tells me to be original iand go with my own vibe, I laugh at them because I know people “steal” designs, and ideas everyday. It’s really not stealing it’s called borrowing it and fixing it up.

  • http://automaticlifestyledispenser.com the cowboy

    “Bad artists copy. Great artists steal.”

    — Pablo Picasso

  • http://offroadinghome.blogspot.com DJ

    Could you please tell me what source you used to obtain what you claim is the quote from Einstein: “The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.” Being a bit of an officinado of the man it seems more like one of those quotes we used to confabulate when we thought we were behind in a debate tournament. If he actually said it I’d be suprised – but stranger things have happened.

  • http://offroadinghome.blogspot.com DJ

    Sorry… one more observation if you would.

    In the “real” world BOTH the words “stealing” and “copying” would have gotten you an “F” on your paper, and in these days of near moral hysteria in the US, probably expelled. Frankly, I’m not sure why “web designers” feel they have to invent a new vocabulary. Looking at something and seeing something different, unique and applicable to a problem you are trying to solve is called by “most the world” INSPIRATION. “I was inspired by the lighting techniques of Rembrant so used …”, “the Kellog’s box made me think of …” etc. etc..

    Joseph Campbell wrote years ago about the “hero’s journey” [ see: http://potter.scarpnotes.home.att.net/helps/herosjourney.html ] which is the grand foundation of… basically, living life. His description of “the master plot” doesn’t make George Lucas’ Star Wars, Tolkeins’ Lord of the Rings, or Rowling’s Harry Potter, or Lion King, X-Men or etc. etc. “stolen” or “copied.” Being derivative is not theft – why would someone need to invent alternate meanings to words?

    Do we have so little to argue about in “web design” that we have to re-invent the thesaurus.

  • http://www.peachpit.com Kara

    Thank you for quoting Marty Neumeier in your post. I work for Peachpit Press and thought you and your readers would like to know that he just released his very first video, INNOVATION WORKSHOP: Brand Strategy + Design Thinking = Transformation.

    The 45-minute video presents concepts from his bestselling “whiteboard” books – THE BRAND GAP, ZAG, and THE DESIGNFUL COMPANY – plus downloadable exercises that will help you and your team work through brand innovation questions. Overall, this video expands to fill a one-day workshop (an $800 value!) for an extremely affordable price. Check it out below:

    http://su.pr/2iE1k5

  • r_jake

    ‘Originality’ and the ability to pluck new ideas from nowhere is a Modernist myth, which is began to be disregarded within art and design criticism about 60 years ago.

    It is impossible to create anything in isolation – every idea you have simply draws from your prior knowledge and experiences.

    Innovation in design (or any human endeavour) is about being able to develop existing ideas and take them in a new direction, or to at least combine previously disparate elements in a new way. As long as the final result has moved sufficiently away from the source/s then this would seem fine to me, and is probably unavoidable.

  • Danny

    This discussion into the nature of originality and inspiration is a philosophical argument, one of which not many people are qualified enough to make. Good food for thought, but also a bit too didactic.

  • http://luciantucker.com Lucian Tucker

    I am glad there is such an interesting conversation going on here in the comments, and that I have inspired some people to reevaluate the way they go about designing, and others to defend theirs.

    I do want to clarify that I do not think we should look down upon “copying” or “stealing” (except of course blatant infringements of copyrights). However, I do strongly admire people who think outside of the box, and as Marty Neumeier says, “reject the standard option box and cultivate an appetite for thinking wrong.”

  • http://www.sadiqhussain.com Sadiq Hussain

    I have stolen some concepts, skeleton but changed them to my requirements. What I would do more often is get a side bar fro some site a menu form some site change a slider from some site then change it in order to blend with the existing site.

  • http://apnerve.blogspot.com praveen

    I copy stuff but little differently. I first COPY a work as it is. Then LEARN from it ,trying to figure out what makes it work. Now I CREATE(from scratch… not remix) my own stuff from the things I learnt. Lastly, I ATTRIBUTE to the original work stating that I was inspired by it.

    And yes! I feel STEALING is BAD!!

  • Deluxe Interactive

    steal all you want…just make it sure you can do more better or let say make it “marvelous”…

  • http://www.creativeaces.com Joann Sondy

    Interesting article and very passionate responses!

    Basically, anything we “copy” from another and do not give true credit is unethical in writing, design, art, music, etc. If you find INSPIRATION for a project from another source I would classify that as research.

    Remember your art history… students spent years copying the masters before they were allowed to work on their own art. Thus many artists adopted stylistic features of the masters they copied.

    I also believe that the Einstein quote might be taken out of context. My interpretation of not divulging our sources means, simply, where/what/who was our inspiration and not to share.

  • http://www.raymondselda.com/ Raymond Selda

    Very nice article. I’m still learning web design and I think I’m a little bit of the three kinds :-) At first it was really a struggle but I’m glad I continued and worked hard. Thanks for this awesome post.

  • http://www.webmastersgossip.com/blogs/jani/ Jahangir agha

    I don’t copy anything, I just get inspirations from others work but not copy them. I swear :)

  • Bert

    Um… as someone else pointed out, that’s a quote by Picasso. And Picasso wasn’t exactly a ‘rip off someone else’s style’ kind of artist. The problem with a lot of graphic design is it is done by people with a great eye, great patience, and good ideas, but no knowledge of art history. This applies to those that don’t understand what Picasso was saying. While I’ve enjoyed this website, it is not only the ‘theft of someone’s ideas’ – like the floods of a certain style after a major tutorial comes out – that is disturbing, but the people writing articles that also have no knowledge of art. It would be like a literary critic talking of plagiarism and quoting Harold Bloom without knowing who he was. Apparently, the quote for graphic designers should be,
    “Good graphic designers don’t know originality,
    Great graphic designers don’t know art.”

  • http://www.dsign-int.com Shoaib

    Hi. wonderful post. i am running an web design agency and i am a designer myself. i really like your post and agree what u have written. Thanks

  • los lonely one

    Kinda like how you stole the headline from Picasso…hahaha.

    You often hear designers say, “Good designers copy. Great designers steal.”

    I’ve never heard that, graphic designers’ egos are way to large to ever admit that (computer people suck indeed), only an accomplished creative like Picasso would even dare admit to this…try again.

  • http://www.gotmedia.org/ Steph

    Wow, and here I thought you were talking about me in the article!

    When I first started out, I totally stole/copy things, and just like you said, I learned what others have done right and apply that to my own work. Whether it be a restaurant menu, a highway billboard, or even a web site, I examine it to see what works and what doesn’t.

    This has helped me become a better designer.

  • AdamG

    So, if I draw say, a cat; am I copying or stealing? and who am I stealing from? God/Nature? The cat? I definitely am not that cat’s original creator.
    Does it matter if I drew the cat as precisely as possible, or if I stylized the cat?
    Now, my niece draws the same cat, but she liked some of the things I did in my drawing, and uses some of those ideas in her own drawing. I didn’t create her drawing, and she didn’t put her name to mine. All of these are original. They are just different expressions of the same thing.

  • Rod

    I am not a web designer but I once took a course about two years ago. I was taught to use tables a lot!

    The article here says: “used tables to build websites” so I assume tables are not being used anymore. Just out of curiosity, what is being used the most now?

    I know this is slightly out of topic but an answer would make me very happy!

    Thanks.

    • http://www.tulsa-signs.com Tulsa Signs Made

      Div’s are used now.

      • Rod

        Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my question.

        Much appreciated!

    • David Riveroll

      Yes, nowadays you use div’s. Styled div’s.
      You should separate your markup (X)HTML from style (CSS) and behavior (JavaScript, jQuery).
      The best site for learning the standards compliant way to create sites with CSS that I’ve found is

      http://css-tricks.com/

      Checkout his screencast series, for me it’s the easiest way to learn.

      • Rod

        Cool. Thanks David!

  • http://www.somethingweb.com Mark weiss

    I’m going to side with Einstein on this one.

  • http://www.illuminz.com Sanchit Thakur

    I don’t think Copying is the right move, but getting Inspired is the keyword.
    Totally agree with Paris Vega that sketching & brainstorming is the most important part.

  • Neha

    point well proved and taken !
    i believe this should be referred to all the project managers/ceo’s or whoever is taking decision from the clients side, for they often come with a requirement saying “i want something that looks like (mostly apple)” :)
    the very start of the project is based on some one getting inspired by some site and urging the designer to ‘copy’!
    but hopefully post this they might understand that “trying different things for their own sake is okay (good i say :) because they could potentially lead to better things”.
    cheers!

  • Srinath

    I Agree…

  • http://www.bickov.com Alexander Bickov

    Design firstfull must be functional

  • http://www.munawarkhel.com Munawar

    Designers who try not to copy or steal <
    i guess this describes me more over my 65% of me ..

    but anyways i prefer Designers who try not to copy or steal rather then the above ones atleast recreating , making it look better is a good option for ppl who dont have time or may be they dont get paid enough for their hard work …

    Regards
    Munawar Khel

  • DieselAdv

    Hi Guys

    Try this link as to what design isn’t:
    http://www.traceygrady.com/busting-the-myths-what-graphic-design-isnt

    Cheers

    Brian

  • brunolas

    bad article!!

    so i have to inspire in nature to make a css menu?

    what? i look to a flower, and a drop menu comes out from my mind?

    it´s normal webdesigners (a giant creative world ) gets some inspiration in others work.
    i admite, i use other websites to INSPIRE (NOT STEALING), and guess what: i always make something totaly different than the work where i get the inspiration.

    i think you have to re-create the meaning of INSPIRATION: is when you have something, and with that, you can have your OWN IDEA!
    … and that my friend it´s not STEAL!

  • Ninja

    Fine article, but…

    Define “steal” and “copy”! That should be very important.

    When I take a look to a website I usually look to the layout, functionality and usability… (and so on). So, I think that we “learn” every time that we look to a new website. We “learn” with another webdesigners mistakes and ideas, than, I shall produce something from my own ideas!

    So… “Learning” it´s different from “steal” or “copy”, any layouts that I produce are made from the scratch, with influences of the innumerable number of websites that my eyes saw and my mind imagine.

    Creativity it´s natural… born with us I guess, but we could work it out!

  • Daquan

    I’m normally a designer who copies but lately i’ve been trying to be a designer who does not steal or copy. I’ve been looking for my inspiration in other locations other than those web galleries but I’m having trouble finding those sources. Do you have any ideas?

    Thanks,
    Daquan

  • http://cogworksgraphics.com Michael Hoskins

    This is very true and it helped me to recognize a lot of differences. I know I am at the bottom at the moment but I am trying my best to create something new from scratch that is better.

  • http://vibrantgreen.net Jack

    Articles like this really make me wonder who all these designers work for. In my day to day job, it’s almost impossible to be ultimately creative. Someone mentioned above a lot of the time (a good 95% of the time) we design to what a client wants. Very rarely does mean we get the chance to suggest what they might want.

    I want a website like x. This is something we all have to have heard multiple times. Does that mean we can’t take inspiration from x. Or develop x to meet our client’s needs. We would never get paid if we ignored and worked around x.

  • http://www.vainfotech.com Nirmik Soni

    its good design

  • http://sein.se Lain

    Thank you Lucian!

    I loved your text and sometimes saw myself in it!

  • http://www.facebook.com/keizons Rhea

    Just as long as you give credits to your sources… Long live web designers!

  • http://www.ozdtasarim.com fireRox

    “Inspiration” is the keyword not to accept stealing:) very nice article.

  • http://www.kaplang.com Kaplang

    great article :)

  • http://www.psyched.be/wordpress Darkened Soul

    as with everything… in the beginning of a new “concept”, everything is original.
    Today one can state (we are with approx. 7 billion people on this planet…) that there are so many people that have already designed this or that… yet, indeed, there is still room for more… originality is ever expanding instead of imploding… that doesn’t mean it hurts to try copying a site and make it better. this article mentions this in detail.

    Good read either way, keep up the good work!

  • http://www.besttipstechnology.com technology

    Just as long as you give credits to your sources… Long live web designers!

  • http://www.design977.com Pusparaj

    “Theories and conventions are always being questioned, challenged and broken, and they should. If you believe a better way is possible, you will often find your way to it.” I like it. Thanks for a good article.

  • Skulled

    I wanted to become a designer cos I wanted to create something myself, a “fantasy world”, in which i could express my own ideas and idiology…
    its ok to take a tiny bit of material from others as inspiration, but posting some 10 min works based on others art and acting like it would be theyr own, which is pretty popular nowadays, is just a big shame :(

  • http://www.poolsandspasforsale.com William Jones

    Hmm, always a bit hard to judge what’s stolen and what simply falls in the “similar idea” category. While some copy blatantly, deriving something and changing it isn’t necessarily bad as long as it has something new and unique. Well, my opinion, it’s a topic you could discuss for hours since, but every “inspiration” is some sort of copy, even if the end result is completely different.

  • http://juanmiguelsalas.blogspot.com Juan Miguel Salas

    Man!!!
    I think i steal a little some times :)) but in some way is normal. I can make this “A designer may look at the curvy lines of Moll’s logo above and months later may create a logo very similar to it without actually recalling where they got the idea from.”… i know why, that´s the diference ;) … but always trying to give my personal view…that is what it make our designs unique because we are also unique as human being…
    Happy design
    Juanmi

  • http://metalpigs.com metalpig

    great article dude… yet what I’d found interesting most are the comments! :)

    cheers,
    metalpig

    • http://luciantucker.com Lucian Tucker

      I’m actually with you metalpig. I love my article, but these comments are really interesting and I’ve been reading every one.

      Really, I just wanted people to question what they were doing and a lot of people in these comments have. Some don’t agree, some do, and some have an issue with my use of the word “stealing,” but all of them had an immediate reaction. Goal achieved.

  • PvdM

    Nice post. I belong to the last category, I try to be original and I don’t even get inspired that much by looking at webdesign galleries, but I prefer print/art galleries.
    I’m glad you concluded with saying that being original doesn’t mean you’re making nice websites, that was exactly what I was going to ask if you didn’t.

  • http://www.webdevtuts.net Marcell Purham | Webdevtuts

    Great article. I think designers who say they don’t steal are laying because a website consist of basic geometrical shapes which everyone uses over and over. I dont think you should rip someone design off but if you like it take it and get creative with it :)

    • http://hiddan356.deviantart.com/ chris

      nice… thah’t wat is the same thing i did ….

  • http://www.selengiadesigns.com jeremiah

    Great article. I think inspiration is in part somewhat taking bits from other work out there and moulding it into your own style and way of thinking.

  • Chris

    Ok I have to express that Aaron’s avatar made me laugh when considering his position on this article! I wonder if he intended this message. He is either brilliant or… hahah.

  • http://www.marcbuurke.nl Marc Buurke

    I believe my design process is always influenced (be it subconsiously or not) by work i’ve seen before. And sometimes you create something that has a similar look because of it. In a way we all steal I guess, standard frameworks for layout etc etc.

  • http://www.aviank.com Anky

    Designing is all about creativity. But until u explore other’s work, your thinking might be limited, i am not saying u should copy, but at least you can take ideas from other’s work.

  • chris

    i admit a copy others designs or scrapped out others idea…. but i always add an innovation to make it more.. unique and simple..heheXd.. nice article btw..

  • http://www.sitehatchery.com Jason

    I like the idea of the “design[er] pyramid”, as you put it. This suggests a progression from the bottom to the top. “You’ve got to start somewhere”. While this is not necessarily bad as a starting point, the designer should grow beyond this to make good design a “habit”. As you explained, the progression from copy to “copying without realizing it” is a mark of a skilled designer, and truly where a designer should want to end up.

    Stealing designs doesn’t fit on this pyramid and doesn’t fit within the growth progression we are discussing. This type of designer is not only ripping people off, but they are putting site owners in danger of lawsuits and a damaged image or reputation. If a designer is producing awesome designs for pennies, watch out, you could be doing business with a thief. You get what you pay for.

  • http://www.sitehatchery.com Jason

    Stealing and copying seem like the same thing to me. You are still feeding off of someone else’s hard work. It’s one thing to look at a design and have it inspire you toward your own creative work, but if you are literally copying main elements off the page, you’ve got problems. I think they make laws against this in the real world….oh, it’s called copywright, patents, and plagiarism.

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    It is really nice for me to see you and your great hardwork again.Every piece of your work look

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