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The OK guide to preventing design theft

By John ~ Thursday, 09 May 2013

I’m sure you, like me, are still in shock at the revelation that the latest Clearleft website was in fact stolen from a much smaller agency somewhere in Kent (see http://adactio.com/journal/6232/ for more info). Whilst I winced and chuckled my way through Jeremy Keith’s recording of the resulting phone call, I also had a real sense of doom. What if that happened to us? We’d never purposefully rip-off someone’s site and I’d be gutted if we were ever accused of it. But we are so often inspired by a lot of design that I worry we might accidentally steal. And that’s before we even get to the fact that there’s a lot of ‘samey’ looking sites out there. It’s healthy paranoia and we have a few internal checklists to try and avoid such things.

The basics: Am I really stealing this design?

If you can answer yes to any or all of these questions, STOP! You’re probably about to steal a design

  1. Have I downloaded the site in its entirety and am about to use it as the starting point for my own design?
  2. Have I carefully extracted the color scheme, grid, fonts etc. and am about to use it as the starting point for my own design?
  3. Is my graphics app loaded up with screenshots of the site that has inspired me so much so I can refer back to it frequently?
  4. Have I just cut & paste the copywriting from the site?

The OK’s one-stop practical in-house guide to prevent outright design theft

I’m going to use Mark Boulton Design as the case study. They recently launched their new site just at a point where we’re desperately trying to put together our own, and struggling a bit, and we want something like that. I’d say we’re in real danger of stealing it. So rather than doing any of the things on our basics list, I started to break down why we wanted to steal it.

1: Why do I want to steal this site so much?

  1. It’s deceptively simple which to my eyes gives it elegance but also confidence and authority
  2. Combined with its simplicity is a unique and utterly refreshing way to navigate. No navigation bar
  3. The copywriting is tight, it takes moments to read but you’re left with a real sense of the company
  4. The video has great atmosphere, can we afford to hire these guys to do our site for us?
  5. Look at that client list. You bastards!
  6. They never use the word clients
  7. I love the art directed style of the projects
  8. I like how the Mark Boulton Design brand itself is bold and confident on its own but almost vanishes completely if you are reading a project case study
  9. At the bottom of every page is a master class in conversion. A ‘what we want you to do next’ contact us form

I could go on, and I probably will, with this and a few other sites, but that’s quite enough licking of bums and I’m sure you get the idea. This is actually quite a useful list for us as a team of two and it most certainly shifts the focus away from that copyrighted combination of colour, typography, words and layout.

Desperate as we are to have what they have this partially completed list has enough for us to ‘steal’ a little of what we have interpreted as part of their success but also to be honest with ourselves and understand what we can’t achieve just now; like their staff, office, clients, time and budgets. With those things in mind even if we thought we could get away with it, nicking the design outright seems futile anyway.

We’ll try never to look at the site again as we build our own but you can be sure we’ll be checking back when our first round is done to check we haven’t been too heavily inspired.

There is no point 2.