What to do when a client wants you to copy other designs

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copydesignIn the graphic and web design industry, we like to think of ourselves as “creatives” who constantly keep the creative juices flowing and come up with original, well-thought out ideas. So why is it that even the best of graphic and web designers are approached by a client now and then who says something like:

“I really like the look of this design.
Can you just copy it?”

I was asked about this just the other day on twitter (follow me | follow the blog). The following was the question I got from @zooperswede: “What would you do if a client that comes to you with a magazine clip and says…’design me something like this’?” I would like to present my thoughts on the issue according to the experiences I have had. In addition, I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

First things first, is it okay to copy designs?

Great Designers Steal

There has been a lot of controversy over the notion that “great designers steal”. Cameron Moll, web guru, speaker, and author wrote an article clear back in 2003 titled “Good Designers Copy, Great Designers Steal”. In it, he adapted Picasso’s statement that Great Artists Steal to modern web and graphic designers. The point of the article is that copying others’ work is a great way to create top-notch material especially for those who are just starting out in design.

Is it okay to copy?

Is it every appropriate to copy the design of another? Yes. Why do I say this? Because, frankly, as designers we are constantly mimicking what we see in the world around us. We peruse the internet searching for “inspiration” and, as we collect this information, our brain remembers the elements we like and those we dislike. The more time we spend with certain styles of design, the more our design starts to imitate it. Is that a good thing?

Of course it is.

The wonderful thing about the online design community is the wonderful ability we have to share ideas quickly and feed off of each others’ creativity. A few opportunities in which I would say copying another design is appropriate are as follows:

  • When you are trying to master a new technique
    Nothing will help you learn a new technique better than really digging deep into how the original designer achieved the effect. By dissecting the design and recreating it yourself, you perfect the process. It’s much like taking apart a vacuum cleaner or toaster oven. The further you get inside, the more you understand the basic principles that govern its success.
  • When the author intends for you to borrow or copy
    There are countless online resources that provide designers with tutorials, code snippets, downloadable source files, free stock photography, and more. In these situations, this material is there for your gain–so really try to take advantage of it as much as possible.

But is it okay to steal?

Let’s face it. Stealing is wrong. Never in the history of the world has it been inherently right to steal. Using another person’s work and claiming direct ownership of it is not ethical and is usually illegal. So what do we do when a client approaches us with the request to “make it look exactly like this”?

The solution

I discussed this same issue early on in my design career with a professor of Graphic Design. The advice he gave me has stuck with me to this day and has helped me out of some pretty tight situations. He gave me a simple procedure to follow when approached with a request to copy someone else’s design.

1FIRST, Commend your client for putting forth the effort in deciding what kind of design they are looking for and what style they like.

1SECOND, Explain to your client the laws of copyright and the problems associated with plagiarism.

1THIRD, Kindly help your client understand that while you cannot explicitly steal certain elements of the design itself such as actual shapes in logos or images from the internet (without purchase a rights managements), you would be happy to identify the elements and principles of design that you can use to get the same effect.

1FOURTH, and this is the most important, sit down with your client and talk with them about why they like the design. Talk less about physical traits and more about principles and emotions. Do they like the color pallet? Do they like the arrangement of elements? Maybe it’s the typography or photography. Possibly they like the amount of white space or the textures. List all the reasons your client likes the design they present to you.

1FIFTH, after the meeting, sum up all the points you have made about the design. Their likes, their dislikes, and how you intend to achieve a similar effect without copying the design directly.

1SIXTH, After designing the piece according to the specifications at the meeting, review the design with your client and point out the elements that you previously discussed. More than likely, they will love the new design because they now have something just as appealing and beautiful but that belongs completely to them.

Case in Point

I’ll finish off with a design project I recently completed. The client came to me and essentially said, “We want our site to look like the Apple web site.”

There were some obvious elements found on the Apple web site that I knew the client wanted to apply in their web site. Obviously the Apple site uses white space effectively, has a minimalistic color scheme, and is simple and easy to navigate.
While I didn’t want to explicitly copy the Apple site, I took some of the elements I mentioned previously and applied them in my design. The client loved the design and the site launch was a smooth success.

What would you do?

At the end of the day, this is all my opinion and experience. I am anxious and curious to learn what you would do (or have done) in this sort of situation.

Please share your thoughts with the rest of us.

About Preston D Lee

Preston is a web designer, entrepreneur, and the founder of this blog. @prestondlee

Comments

  1. This is great. I had a client want to do this for a website.

    But he didn’t want just the design, he wanted the content and everything too. Basically, a 100% carbon copy of the site with the content changed to show his business instead. He didn’t want to do it because he liked the content or design, but rather because it was a competitor’s site and he wanted to be 100% sure that he was at least as good as his competitor. I remedied the situation by telling him that the site I was going to create for him was going to take into account his audience, and was going to be BETTER than the site he wanted to copy. He agreed, and he’s happy with the new design!

    • @Carlin Scuderi, Good work Carlin. It begs the question ‘Why did your client not just have faith in you to do a better job anyway, without seeking the false assurance of attempting a straight copy.’ The work of educating clients is never ending.

    • I have had clients ask me to copy not just site designs, but logo designs as well. After looking at my portfolio of logo designs that I have created for other clients, they pointed one out and wanted me to use the same design, but change it to their name. First, I pointed out that it is illegal and unethical to use copyrighted work, and that although I could create a logo for them that is inspired by the other client’s design, I would never steal a design from another client of mine. Then the icing on the cake was when I pointed out to them that also, when I create a custom design for them, I would likewise never use their design in any other client’s designs either.

  2. Great read.

  3. Zooper Swede says:

    I work in wood or “architectural elements”. I am a carpenter that designs build. I am always getting clients showing me photos of bookcases ect. that are shown in a room that are twice the size of their room. I tackle the perspective issue first then attempt to take some of the notable elements and incorporate it into a new design that takes some of my ideas and some of other artists to create a new look.(Mix Gustav Stickley, Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe WALLA.. Arts and Crafts on Steroids) I say this is “custom” for them. Take it maybe from a business perspective. Do you want your client to be “as good” or “better” than the competition?

    You guys need to use the word “custom” more. Just my opinion.

    “To sticktly copy is to be stricktly copitulated”

  4. Great post. I had a recent design “stolen” directly from my client, who is an Intellectual Property Law firm. It was both a little upsetting and a bit of a compliment. Needless to say, once we discovered the theft — my work was removed from their servers the next day. Worst part of it all was that it wasn’t my best work…

  5. Preston,

    A great think piece as usual. I have a story to share but no time to do that right now. I will say though that too many clients have the idea that just because something appears in public it means “Public Domain” or mine for the taking. Sometimes a primer on Intellectual Property is the only way to go.

  6. I am not a designer at all but I think these are good principles for any creative endeavor. It is also very interesting to get a professionals take on his craft. I like the design of this blog…maybe when I have the money I will have you design me a copy of it :P

  7. Well… here in Venezuela almost no designer respects that, i myself encourage my client no to do so, whether recommending something better or simply not getting the job, but sometimes when your budget is low you need to take some jobs, i dont make them “carbon Copy” though as that would not be legal, but its has happened… sadly…

  8. good post, nice piece of advice there from your professor. Would probably be the best way of dealing with any ideas they have: helps get to the root of the matter and get more information than they may be able to articulate, whilst making them feel like they are being very helpful.

  9. I’ve had this happen quite a lot over the space of the last year, and I assume the more web conscious clients get the more they will see things they like. From the other perspective I have had clients tell me that friends of theirs have been inspired to have websites like the one I created for them done, which is quite a compliment!

  10. Good tips to copy someone else design, thank you for the information.

  11. It is really great having opportunity for reading this great information’s. I like reading it because it is brief and step by step well explained, so everyone can understand it. It is really great tips for everyone, Thank You.

  12. If anyone want to copy my design, go ahead. If I want to copy other’s design, I’ll cut to the minimal similarity istead :P But it is all ok for copying here and there, that’s how thing evolve after all…

  13. Stealing is really bad think I don’t want to talk about that but I do speak about copying (this itself is an art). Don’t we need any brine or any skills for that? I don’t want to use “copy” word rather I can use getting some good form someone or something and making or adding some better to it according to our need.
    The end goal of us is to give the best to the Clint in this thought process is like this.
    1) Good artists copy, great artists steal (Picasso)
    2) Good Designers Copy, Great Designers Steal (cameron Moll)
    3) What to do when a client wants you to copy other designs (Preston D Lee)
    4) Copy or getting the idea (Subbu)

    1 after > 2 after > 3 after > 4 after > 1 after…………
    Me after > you > someone > again may be Me…………. Circle goes like this, isn’t it?
    We could not use great libraries or tutorials if someone is saying this is copy or we can say there will not be any improvement in anything.
    I have given comments 2 or 3 times and 2, 3 words (good, great etc) for other articles, because I have a fear of my English language. But could not control for this article and wrote some thing I felt, please excuse me if I miss spelt or grammatically wrong.
    Hi Preston if you add fans-club let me know, to be part of it.

  14. Great list and tips on how to steer your client away from copying another site directly. I’ve been thru this quite a few times, and have used some of these techniques. If I can’t convince the client not to completely rip off someone else’s site, I’ll just walk away from the job. I’d rather work with someone who has higher ethics.
    Great article.

  15. I open http://www.remmelspear.com/ in chrome web browser and saw errors, the gray background of the top menu its moved up below the company name. I IE and Firefox the page looks good. Check your CSS.

  16. Hey this is a great read. Personally, I try to encourage clients to give me something to copy, that way I know what they really want. I don’t copy, but more look at the elements and style much as you did in your example. Great way to get a starting direction from clients.

  17. Thanks for this. You make some good points. I would also add that it is ok to turn down a client who is committed to the idea of stealing others’ content.

    I had a client who wanted to use a bunch of photos that they did not have permission for. I explained why that was not ok, copyrights and all, and they said “That’s stupid, where do people get all this stuff then?” And refused to be reasonable. I turned down the project, thank God, and later discovered they had gone ahead with their copyright-infringing design with someone else.

    Those type of people aside, I think you have a great process written out that can lead to some really great projects growing out of a seemingly terrible proposal.

  18. This is a great post. And yes, everyone does steal and take and do everything everyone else does, all the time.
    It’s how I’ve learned to do things. You can’t learn if you don’t have an idea of what you are trying to learn… if that makes any sense.

    I think it does :)

  19. Oh, I forgot to mention that my design of New2WP.com was based on MetaLabs design as you can tell. Same idea as what you did by using Apples site design.

    http://new2wp.com
    http://www.metalabdesign.com/

  20. Great post ! I’d prefer not to have to work with a client who wants a copied design !

  21. This is so very true. I am in my early years as a graphic designer and studying Multimedia at university. Designing something truly unique is a challenge and it is soo ironic how the university and others tell you to look at other peoples work for inspiration but yet if the university thinks you have even just slightly gotten an idea from another artists work then you are shunned upon.

    It’s important to keep originality and your own personal style to your designs but as long as you don’t breach copyright or blatantly COPY their design then you are fine. Most of the best and most widely known logos started out as an idea formed by a logo the creator saw.

  22. You may need to proofread your caption under the Apple website: “There were some obvious elements found on the Apple web site that I new the client wanted” — ‘new’ should be ‘knew.’

  23. I think copying and stealing are basically the same thing when it comes to digital bits. Let me explain before you jump in on the conversation.

    The reality of the situation is that the designers who designed Apples web site were likely coming from other inspiration from other designer web sites as well, which accumulated into it’s sleek looking design it is now. If I didn’t know about Apple and I just happened to randomly design something 99.99% exactly like Apple purely out of coincidence, I’d be ragged on pretty hardcore by the design community. The chances of this happening are very slim, but it’s possible. It would be just like winning the lottery but different obviously. Granted, Apple is the only one that makes Apple products so it wouldn’t be an exact replica without their product images but I hope you understand my point.

    Another example, if I don’t know what a notepad is then I can’t design it. But I know what a notepad is because someone created one previously. But that person created the notepad off of other creativity from someone else, etc. Nobody ever just creates something from nothing. That would be like saying you were the creator of all things, which ultimately resulted in you creating a notepad from everything you previously created. One last example… it would be like someone saying “you said something funny”, but how could you say anything funny if you didn’t know how to speak your language — which was made up through time from multiple people throughout our history.

    Now with that said, I think it’s rather rude to replicate someone’s site completely and really detrimental for a beginning designer to do so for work and should only be done for learning purposes only.

    I totally get what you are saying in the article too, but the reality is that everyone steals design work. They just do it in bit-sized chunks so its labeled “copying” instead of stealing.

    Just my two cents.

  24. If you have a stubborn client that really thinks they want a copy of someone else’s design and they seem reluctant to budge, try this: In Photoshop, make an exact copy of the site they like, and start swapping in content. It shouldn’t take long, and it will definitely look bad, but then put more effort into one that might be inspired by that design that uses their content more appropriately. They’ll always pick the right one.

    The problem isn’t that they want you to copy, it’s that they have no idea how to express what they’re thinking. They like one site because someone at some point put some thought into the content _and_ the design. It’s pretty easy to illustrate the point without talking down to them or trying to convince them.

    • Susan Finch (@susanfinchweb) says:

      A technique I use regularly. This is a great discussion. I agree with you, it’s easier for clients to point to existing sites and elements to express what they want and don’t want. I ask for 5 sites from clients and have them tell me specifically what they like and don’t like about each. Then, the composite rough mock up is easier that leads to a unique design.

    • I totally agree. Clients have a hard time expressing themselves to a designer and end up trying to help by coming up with their own solutions (sometimes copying) for the designer to execute.
      I find myself steering clients back to root issue,”what are you trying to achieve?” all the time. Sure clients have visual preferences and favorite colors that end up driving the design process, but ultimately a big part of my job in the beginning is working to develop an open dialog to the important information I need to develop a thoughtful effective design.

  25. Oh yeah! I remember when my boss after 10 designs i originally made for him, he came with “You know..I don’t like that designs..I want a clone of this website…100%”

    …that expression transform me in some kind of hulk-girl.

    It was so offensive for me, the fact he ask me that… but after made the design, I add some changes, it looks pretty similar to the website he ask me, but I learn a lot another techniques in Photoshop to create the effects.

    At the end…I discover that the principal reason why he wanted that design was because the menu was better than my designs.

  26. Superb advice Preston! These are issues that I cover with my clients right at the outset of any project, I had learned my lesson!

    I had a situation where a client wanted me to use written content they copied from a competitors site on their own, this after I had explained to them that if they wish to supply me with content that it must be authentic, and not a copy of someone else’s work.

    Well, I must have not made my point clear enough, because the client sent me a direct copy and paste from another site (I always check, just in case, to cover myself from a legal standpoint).

    I had to write the client back and explain to them the reasons why this was just such a bad idea: The legalities such as copyright infringement, that using copied content from competitor sites has a tendency to cause mistrust in users (people do surf to competition sites), but also that duplicating content from another site is just not going to do their own web site any favors in the search engines.

    Once the client had this information (especially once they understood the potential negative impact of using copyrighted material), they of course promptly sent me original copy I could use on their site.

  27. As someone who has both had his work copied, and been asked to copy another site, I appreciated this article, and the step-by-step hints. Thanks for the sanity.

  28. I use the same approach as Preston, using some elements and change them according to the requirements of the audience. Simply copying a site is out of the question for me, firstly because it is illegal, secondly, because I do not want to get a reputation as a copycat.
    Luckily, in my experience, most customers want something unique anyway, but they might be inspired by what they see elsewhere and there is nothing wrong in that. As said in the article, we all are influenced by what we see around us. This is how trends are born, it is not a conscious effort, it just happens.

    I wonder how often the Apple site has been copied. A zillion times, I guess. Yet, they do not look at a megabyte more or less at Apple. At some point, their homepage was 2Mb! ;
    Big sites like Apple can permit themselves that, because they do not depend on search engines, but I would not risk that on my own sites. ;-)

  29. I wish I had read this article when it first came out; it might have helped me better deal with a client who asked me to directly reproduce someone else’s website. I told her I couldn’t do that, but that I could design something with similar elements. As far as I know, I did just that, but I was fired right after. Maybe if I had discussed the issue further with her, and tried to draw out her opinions on the design, instead of reacting with my initial horror that she would ask me to copy something, it would have helped her feel more invested in what I was doing.

    I have to point out, though: it’s color palette, not pallet. A pallet (among other things) is a rustic bed on the floor.

  30. This happens to illustrators too. I’ve taught illustration professional practice at MCAD and been told by students that when they were unpaid interns at large companies (which I’d rather not name) they were brought xeroxes of illustration portfolios and instructed to “do this guy.” What this does over time is shift a whole professional class out of its former well-earned prosperity. What kind of message did these students take away from this? Everybody is put in unethical positions in life, and in this economy it is especially hard to resist freelance necessities or the instructions of an employer. But some of the companies most admired for their creative design are acting in a way that destroys the creative class.

  31. I’m in the same boat, Preston. For use as inspiration, I love it when clients show me works they love (similarly with works they don’t love). Then we talk about what they like in each one, and what they generally don’t like. From here I tailor my design to meet their needs but not to mirror their inspiration pieces.

    Great post!

  32. I was successful in suing a foreign owned oil company (operating here in Canada) for copyright infringement almost twelve years after the infringement became known to me. How is this possible when the Limitations Act Statute Barr’s any suit that is filed more than two years after the facts were known to the Plaintiff? It is possible when the Defence and their counsel are more ignorant than knowledgeable of the copyright act.
    The original author of an intellectual property has Intellectual and Moral Rights to the work, for the life of the author and to his/her estate for fifty years following the death of the author. To change, re-engineer or alter the elements of a design is copyright infringement by distortion and conversion. This is the statute on which I relied and ultimately won my case. During the process of suing, quite by accident I discovered an altered version of my logo with the font change from the original. I can only assume this was done because their web designer could not identify the uncommon font I used. Lucky for me, we settled out of court for ten times my original fee. Please, no questions about why I waited so long, it’s complicated!

  33. This happens far too often. I’ve worked for too many people who hold up an example that they found somewhere and say, “We want this.” Limited understanding of creativity…

  34. I own an invitation and note card business. I design ALL of my own work. People have been copying my designs since day one. Most recently someone “right clicked” and invitation and then TRIED to Photoshop over the sample text and watermark. The final outcome was a mess, yet the thief kept the design up for sale. The culprit originally took my design at the request of a client. The client was displeased with the outcome and emailed me. Why did the customer not come to me? It is MY design. I can manipulate the graphics so that the wording fits nicely and does not overlap the art. I contacted the offender and they were horrific. They told me it was not mine, that they had purchased the template from another site. IMPOSSIBLE. It was a signature background I use. I spent hours making it and tweak it for different themes. Bottom line, I am never happy when someone copy/steals my work that I spent hours designing. These are my original ideas. No one should feel they have the right to use them. A person should not be in this business if they are not creative.

  35. A wonderful article I will be showing my students. After being in the Graphics and Advertising industry almost 30 years, I teach my students to have high ethics. They should know better: no pirating, no plagiarism, no copyright infringement. It is our responsibility to keep our industry known for ethics and not bring it down, to protect our clients and the companies we work for from potential lawsuits, and to protect ourselves from the same, and our work from being stolen.
    Last summer I did a complete redesign of a publication I had been the designer for 7 years with my client. Because they have been educated by me on these principles and they trust me, they sent a package (its a long distance client) with about 5 other magazines that they found merit in to help give me inspiration. We discussed what their likes and dislikes were, and then put them all aside to discuss their other requirements. Although the publications that were inspirational, our new design is unique for the client and is flexible for us to use for the next five years. Ironically, we won an award for the first issue in GD USA Inhouse Awards and one of the other publications we gained some inspiration from also won and is on the same page as ours!
    I don’t mind inspiration from me or anyone else, just don’t believe in plagiarism, claiming for one’s own when its not. I’ve been willing to fire a client or walk out of a job for it. It’s worth it.

  36. Hey Preston,
    Excellent advice and well elaborated.

    This topic is ever timely eh? Long ago and far away as a young designer I was given the “copy this” order for a alma mater fund promo. How ironic to be told by a university office to copy another university’s AMF poster, the font, layout, the whole nine yards. I resisted but as an employee managed to adjust it and keep my job, until I quit after more of these sorts of issues.

    One sign shop owner to whom I sub-contracted, persisted in being oblivious to copyright laws year after year…even after being sued by the Franklin Mint for a mural image ripped off a plate for a Shoeless Joes establishment. I once “got by” on a large knock off of a New Yorker cartoon for this same shop, by insisting it would be so totally ironic and hip if I included a line “apologies to xyz” with the original copyright info discretely added along the bottom of the image.

    But… Some never learn…they don’t want to. Just getting the job and delivering for the money is all it is for them. And as an illustrator, well, all kinds of stories there. The direction and points of persuasion though you explain in the original post are all well made and remind me of the initial diplomatic responses I make to my clients.

    And yes, walk a way from the job if some cloth headed type starts blustering…my reply “That may be what you want, but if my name is on this, so is my reputation and that’s not how I work…Good Luck with someone else.” And I have never regretted it. The next job always comes along soon enough and the world is too small a place to mess around in and arrogantly assume no one will notice. THAT is really bad business.

  37. Using published material for educational purposes, and giving credit to the original artist is how I always do it. As an Illustrator I have often used design elements to create my own characters based on those elements (i.e. anime, DC animated etc.) When I use say a manga page to demonstrate or apply a technique such as color I will always print somewhere on the page who created the original. Also as a rule I only use 1 page or panel in any of my demonstrations. Never copy the whole product ever. This goes way beyond educational and into infringement.

  38. I come into graphics from a fine arts background. I always tell my clients that fine art design is ‘divine inspiration’ and graphics is about “synthesis” with the bottom line of the aesthetics being ‘making money’. ….

  39. Carolyn Rosner says:

    The design solution proposed by the client to “just be copied” by the designer was created to solve a specific problem for that client. Your solution may be solving a similar problem, but the “one size fits all” mentality on the part of the client is wrong and disrespectful of the design process (you have been hired to solve a particular communications problem for a client, right?). Furthermore, the “just copy it” mentality is lazy and unprofessional on the part of the designer. Be inspired by the designs of others, but do your own work!

  40. My story is a little more intriguing, I started a design comapny with a friend in 1992 in Manchester England, I was the creative director and my friend was the account handler / business manager. We ran the company for 18 years and two years ago we finally ‘fell out’ and decided to part ways. I retained my existing customers and he took the customers that he looked after, all was well and amicable (ish). Two months ago I got a call from an account handler at one of our customers, we both still work for this client, apparently he had done something very wrong. We had both pitched for a rebrand to one of their products, both were successful, I was to handle the design of the logostyle, but he (my old company) were to handle the branding of the advertising campaign. They did so and delievered several adverts across print, advertising and web… until a company in Birmingham had contacted our client direct with a cease and desist of their current campaign. They had literally copied, verbatim, the new style of a huge house building company in Birmingham England, some 90 miles away!!! It was exactly the same, EXACTLY! I was embarassed, it was truly shocking. The client insisted that they compensate them for money spent and came up with a new style at their expense, the new style was uninspiring and lacked any cohesion or message… it was dreadful. But the client is still using this new artwork and style and continues to give him work!!! The companies involved were a huge national homebuilder, one of the largest advertising agencies in the world, and my customer an insurance provider for civil servants like the police and fire service!

    My ex friend and business partner claimed he knew nothing of this ‘infringement’ he thought the creative had come up with this all by himself!!! The lad has worked there for five years, he should know this work was like nothing he had ever done before and he hadn’t commissioned an illustrator to style the campaign! When I worked with him I was constantly battling against his attitude that “everything’s been done”, “just bang it down and move on to the next job”, “ponsey designers talking all this sh*t, just get on and give me some ideas like this…” their own website is a carbon copy of another design firms site with different content. He has been copying other peoples work for years and passing it off as his own!

    Just today I have noticed some more of their work, another logo design, that has used elements from other companies logos, it was for a veterinarian surgery, they have just copied from a series of logos from companies in the USA and put them together and sold it to the customer!

    My new company, started in 2010, is struggling to find new customers as there is a massive slow down as we all know, but I will never resort to copying someone elses work and passing it off as mine.

    What galls me is the company that they copied from and were caught let it go, as they had ceased using the artwork. The customer still gives them work, after embarrassing them and causing damage to their brand, and ripping them off – he had pitched, ‘won’ and billed them for that work, that is a kind of fraud!

  41. I thought this was a great article and the title reminded me of a similar experience I had when I was doing my first paid logo design under my new design company. The end product had elements of a logo the client admired, but I would never take on a project like that again as I feel it limits your creativity as a designer because you are boxed in to produce a “copy-cat” design.

  42. “Can you do something LIKE this” is one of the sentences I have heard the most from clients. And it almost always made perfect sense.
    On the other hand: “I really like the look of this design. Can you JUST COPY it?” is something that I have never heard from a client.
    To the first question I have always replied: ‘yes of course, actually we can do better”.
    To the second question, I think I would simply reply: “no, I cannot, goodbye”.

  43. I think copying is a far cry from stealing and I’ve had my work stolen from me – or rather, “copied” exactly – like cut and paste. I think the issue here is educating those new to design both web and graphic, as to what they can and can’t consider “copying”.

    Good article, though I think there needs to be more distinction between copying and outright stealing.

  44. Great article. New question. What do you do when client has approved, then rejected four different web look and feel designs. It’s important to note that there are three different individuals reviewing he designs.

    • Tricky to get around this after the fact. You can hardly change your rules midstream but it sounds like they are almost enjoying exploiting you. Appeal however you can to the unreasonableness of the current situation but you may be stuck or have to quit the case.
      Resolve to learn for the future…. from now on, set up a provision in your contract to protect you from this sort of HM (high maintenance) client scenario.
      I provide 3 separate planning stages (that can be used electronically or in face to face meetings) where the client can advise and correct in process. Their last chance is a sign off on the final prep before final art. After that, a rising charge kicks in for any changes/rejects etc following that stage.
      I make sure the client understands this and give them a final heads up too if it looks like they are heading for an unplanned expense. All the up front opportunity to be involved is there. But once they signed off on it. They pay for it. Any change can be made, sure…but the client will be charged for each change.
      If money is no object, then you have a job for life but I’ve never heard of that perk. They commonly make up their minds fast and have new respect for my firm enforcement of a fair business structure.
      I hope this helps.

  45. Part of being a graphic designer is to know what works, and looking at what is out there is the only way to know that. Once you understand the elements of a design you can adapt it to create something new. As a graphic artist it is not feasible or cost effective to think that every piece should – or even could be– totally original!

  46. I agree totally. Outlining the steps in dealing with a client is the most helpful.

    How would you like your client to describe you to a potential referral? A cheap knock-off artist? Stealing is cheap but costly to your rep. By being honest and informational with your client you are building your reputation for integrity, knowledge and tact. People who insist that they want you for cheapness are not your best clients. They don’t respect you and will always be looking for the next cheapest.

  47. There’s an important step between (1) and (2)… before a designer can explain copyright laws to the client, the designer needs to understand them. Unfortunately, many designers have a very poor understanding of copyright laws, and this can lead to tremendous liability for both the designer and the client.

  48. Wow. Your design is absolutely terrible and retains none of what makes the apple site great. What a disaster.

  49. Realist Art Director says:

    You’re over thinking it. Just do as the boss says, keep your job.

    A great designer WILL copy, but just you being that great designer, you will do something better or unique to your own style eve IF its very similar to what the BOSS asked you to copy.

    Just do it. Thank yourself for having a job. Don’t sweat it. If you suck it will be the exact same thing.

  50. What is laid out here in its most basic form is what is called selling. Sales occur billions of times every single day. In the world of selling the term customer can be used in place of the term client. The point is to convince (sell) the customer on what you have to sell. So, first understand what it is you are selling — deceit or honesty — profit through honest representation or something else.

    If you choose the honest approach you have chosen wisely especially if one is like Mark Twain, who said, in effect that his lack of a good memory made him a bad example as a long term liar. Choose the truth and honesty and both your life and that of the customers will be better.

    An accomplished salesperson knows how to control the conversation by becoming emotional when the customer becomes technical and to become technical when the customer becomes emotional.

    Whether the customer is unaware of the laws that govern copyrighted materials or if they simply expect a designer to do whatever they (the customer) want regardless of what the laws are; creates the motivation time for instant backbone on the part of the designer. The legal ax will fall on the neck of the designer (seriously with your fingerprints on the evidence, so to speak your associates will not be able to run away fast enough; with that in mind communicate the lack of interest designers have of being convicted of copyright law breaking. And, select the right response as you see fit from a swift kick in the ass to a kind presentation of the options to the customer.

  51. Preston,

    Thank you so much for all these great posts. I’m a Graphic Design student right now and, although I haven’t even started working yet, I love reading about possible bumps in the future road. All your posts are so coherent.

    Thank you!

  52. Gary Nusinow says:

    I think you missed a critical point here. I would not condone stealing or copying. Both are not only unethical, but lazy, creatively. it’s one thing to look at a lot of great design work and be inspired by it, learn from it, even reproduce it (for internal use only). We are all influenced by what we see around us, not just other designers’ work, but all visual stimuli. When we sit down with our sketch books and begin working through concepts, we should know and respect the difference between 1) synthesizing design ideas we’ve seen and incorporating that as part of the creative process and 2) literally co-opting another designer’s hard-earned solutions. To me, the difference between the two is clear.

  53. What if someone has a company with their own design and they want to keep their design consistent with the others of their own company.and they just hire someone to remake the same design.
    not a copy of another company but their own design.
    just by a different designer

  54. Good article and something all designers will face during their careers. Personally I think if you’re anything like half way decent at your job you shouldn’t have to copy or steal other ideas. As a designer you should be able to capture the elements of a design your client likes and deliver something unique and, as one comment above states, better than the competitors.

  55. As a Graphic Designer in the print advertising/marketing business for over 10 years, I’ve come across this numerous times. I agree with you & your solution & it’s exactly what I do.
    I am A Graphic Designer, it’s my passion, I enjoy it. It would PAIN ME to just duplicate someone else’s design as it would feel unnatural and the “lazy” way out. There’s always room for improvement in my opinion that is. I think the clients who are requesting “the same thing” just don’t have the “vision” to see things in a different, better way.
    9 times out of 10 the client is happier with something new.

    I’ve had other publications (our competition) flat out duplicate my designs & even in some cases scan my artwork & use it. I could never do this and still call myself an “artist” of any kind. There have been cases where my boss has TOLD me to “duplicate” anyway! In this case, I will design 2 versions & on the original, I’ll change things up a bit whether it be fonts, an image, colors, whatever it takes. Then present the client with 2 choices (clients appreciate the extra effort even if they’re still “stuck” on the old design.

  56. The warp-up question is the interesting part. And I have an interesting thing to add to that. it might seem silly but I always sometimes have the feeling that if you copy someone else’s work you feel the pinch. You feel out of place. You’re really trying not to feel you didn’t do enough work when you copy another design. Fortunately seeing other designs, is part of it all. We find inspiration there. new technologies to harness and more forward moving strategies. It’s also great for visual people. They can point it out in pictures over and over again. if they wanted to cardon-copy a whole idea, I’d be more dubious if they weren’t intelligent on the topic or trying to be different.

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