I’m asked at least once a month by potential clients if I can copy a design of a website for them that’s exactly like X [insert previous client name here] or if they can buy the design for X to use for their website. My answer (obviously “no”) is always the same with the following explanation.
Copying someone else’s design is stealing, twice. Once from the person who owns the site and it’s design, and once from me (the person who created it). This aspect is sometimes as honest mistake, as some people think the websites I create are done using replicable themes which can often be used by infinite websites (I create each theme from scratch for each client and never re-sold).
But stealing being wrong isn’t the most valid reason to not copy someone.
X’s website was visually organized to meet their needs and serve their goals. It speaks to their audience in the right visual tone that matches their brand. Copying that would be as useful as copying every blog post they wrote or selling their ebook on your website, passed off as your own. After all, you can’t just take Facebook’s design and make a new, more popular Facebook (if only it was that easy).
The Internet shares new ways to interact and complete tasks that get translated lots of times onto lots of websites. Like having a Twitter feed on your sidebar, or even those annoying sign-up boxes that appear over the website as you read articles. Taking one idea, one element or one type of interaction seen on one site and making it work for your website isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and is how the web works. But taking everything from a single source and passing it off as your own is what I’m talking about here.
Design is a visual language, unique to each brand. Past the ethics of stealing, you aren’t serving your business or your audience by using someone else’s language—your business needs its own special language to stand out.
To serve your true voice and that of your business, you need to “package your quirks” (via The Impact Equation by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, which is a brilliant book). Focus on what makes the way you do business and what you offer that’s different from everyone else. If your competition goes green, go blue. If they speak corporatese, swear like a motherfuckin’ sailor (if that’s true to who you are). If they are all offering more, offer less (with better focus).
A lot of success comes from the value people get from what makes you different from your competition. So build on that.