May 21, 2010 2

The Secret to Becoming a Great Designer: Stealing

By in Design, Web Design

Everyone in this field is always striving to become a better designer, more unique, and more creative. It seems to be the only way to advance our careers, right? After all, some of our most admired designers have their own unique style, which we often just attribute to natural ability.

Behind every designer, though, is a trained eye. While some may have more creative assets than others, nobody is born with the ability to be an amazing illustrator, see the world differently for abstract art, or naturally understand the majority user experience. At one point, every designer had to do a bit of copying — stealing from other sources in order to learn. To this day, many of these designer’s works are stolen pieces from everywhere, just all placed in one conglomerate piece.

Good Stealing vs. Bad Stealing

What is wrong in this community: taking a design’s images, themes, branding, and for web design, even code to create a nearly-exact replica for yourself.

What is acceptable, and encouraged: taking ideas, concepts, interfaces, and best practices, and duplicating them in your own way.

Is it always a good thing to be so original in web design? Think about things like a user interface. Some of the biggest websites under similar niches have nearly identical layouts, navigation structures, and sometimes, general color palettes.

Why? Because they’ve already reached the best idea. They’ve already done the research and found out what works best for users. Plus, web design is all about functionality for the user, and similar structures among similar websites provide consistency.


Aren’t all tutorials just stealing the exact practices of the designer who wrote it? And of course, it’s true; all designers new and old need to keep up to date with trends and practices through tutorials.

By following a tutorial, you are stealing the writer’s exact workflow, taking their habits and common practices for yourself, and even adopting some of their unique style. Chances are, though, even through copying a number of other designer’s styles through tutorials, you’ll begin to create conglomerates of all their works to create your own style.

For example: by using a button style you learned from one designer, mixed with a large-background trend you learned from another — you just ‘accidentally’ put them together for your own unique look.

So, How Important is Originality?

From a design perspective, originality is pretty overrated. Yes, everyone needs to have their own unique assets to stand out as individuals, but most of the time we must stick to standards and the basic design principles to make things work for our clients, for the viewers of our designs, and for ourselves.

So how does one find that specific balance of originality vs. using best practices?

It is essential to learn the background behind why each design turned out the way it did. Never just look at a design and know it’s great, but not understand why. Understand design principles, and know when (and why) to copy trends. However, also know when to come out with your own unique set of standards.

What do you think the importance of originality is in design?

About: Kayla Knight:
Hello, my name is Kayla Knight, and I am a web designer and developer based in Iowa, Usa. I focus on user-centric, beautiful, simple, and functional web design. You can check out my portfolio here:

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2 Responses to “The Secret to Becoming a Great Designer: Stealing”

  1. Andrew says:

    Great article! Originality is very precious but it needs lots of time and afford to create an original design because a designer always get inspiration from everything and it is hard to avoid using those ideas and inspirations.

  2. Suitably written.
    You maintain a nice blog.
    Thanks for posting this.