The rights and wrongs of plagiarism and web design techniques

By September 11, 2012Thoughts, Web Design

I sometimes think back to that old saying: “the only truly creative act was the first one, everything that followed was just copying, badly”. The internet is a funny old world of plagiarised and adapted content, we see so many websites that when we go from one to the other we are always thinking to ourselves consciously or subconsciously “I like that” or “I don’t like that”.

Recently, my wife and I hatched a plan for a new website and we got a plan together for creating a website in three phases – expanding it each time as required, initially the first stage was to take my experience of working with online magazines, blogging etc to create a super niche blog, simultaneously we’d develop phase two, which provides for user generated content and once that had got up and running phase three would involve an ecommerce site.

Working with what you know and what you’ve seen

So how to go about the web design/development element of this? The first phase was easy, I’ve worked on enough online magazines in my time to be able to get one together quite quickly. Phase two was a bit harder for me as it required a developer, the cheap solution was to put it out there on Freelancer.com to get someone to quote for it – bit of fun at first, so what did I do? Again I took the easy solution and suggested another website which could be cribbed.

I’ve been working in the marketing / design industry all my working life, having my first website before that in 2000 and every time I’ve started to think about developing a new a website I’ve always found a website or two that are doing the same or a similar thing well and told a designer and developer to copy it, suggesting some improvements that should take it far away enough from the design that it not be too big a problem. I’ve always thought about this as market research, sensible etc, I’ve never ever felt guilty about it before, in the past when it’s been pointed out to me that designs I’ve been involved with have certain resemblences to other websites, I’ve even had people threaten me with passing off their work, however I’ve never been too bothered about it because at the end of the day – there’s no new creativity, it’s just copying and adapting. Right?

I took that attitude with me when I went to work at a creative agency and I did stick out like a sore thumb because of it. There again I believe the evolution in an creative’s creativity is just about taking the things that have worked in the past for them and reusing them as well as learning from the mistakes that haven’t worked (either their own and or other people’s).

Creative Methodology

I’ve been taught to do this along the way. The methodology of creativity I’ve been fed I realise now is probably just the methodology of plagiarism, and for the first time I’ve been approached about my methods and actually feel like I’ve been trying to rip someone elses work off, even if I am trying to improve on the model they’ve developed for myself.

It’s fair to say the shoe has been on the other foot several times as well, and several times I’ve sent out very strongly worded emails that have resulted in websites being changed rapidly from their designs that have obviously been based on the websites I’ve been involved with. So there’s definitely a double standard in my methodology.

I wonder how different that is to what a lot of design and marketing agencies. I may have worked in this industry for too long now and become too cynical.

It’s funny I’ve always thought of sitting down with a number of websites and saying I want this, this and this to be the right way. Next time I think I might start with a completely blank sheet.

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