by Caleb Jaffa

Appropriating Design

The other day I was browsing around the Ruby on Rails sphere. I came across a site that I normally only read on the blog aggregator PlanetRubyOnRails. I followed through to their site to see ‘their’ new design. It was immediately apparent they had borrowed heavily from another company’s site in the Rails sphere. Now the borrower did try to make the design theirs, but they failed as it still looked like their competitor’s site. They failed even more with garish color choice, no regard to typography or even how to properly code the CSS to make the design work.

Good artists copy, great artists steal.

Appropriating design is not a new thing on the web. However there are ways to make it work for you and not against you. I used to work for a creative type who was not much of a web designer. However that didn’t stop him from making good web designs. His secret was that he spent time browsing around and taking screenshots of sites he liked the design of. Then when it came time to design a new site he’d look through his catalog to find what he as a designer thought worked. Sometimes when he would turn over the Photoshop files for slicing and dicing intoHTML/CSS one of the bottom most layers would be the screenshot of the site. Other times we knew it came from a screenshot cause the DPI was 72.009, the DPI Macs used to take screenshots at. While there were offending designs that screamed of the original site, which he got criticism for. However most of the time he took the other site and made it his own. Sometimes the only proof his inspiration was an existing site was the screenshot layer hidden by the background layer.

It’s interesting though to watch the fallout of misappropriated design. How defensive the guilty can be. Though a lot of times people can own up to their mistake and work to rectify things right away. It’s a battle every developer and designer on the web faces, between being inspired and copying. It can be a hard line to draw. Usually it helps to see what colleagues think and be ready to be humble enough to accept the criticism that may arise.

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