DESIGN INSPIRATION, AM I A FRAUD?


S01 | E08 | HOW TO MAKE A WEBSITE, LIKE A PRO

Paul Davenport |  5 min read

Design Inspiration

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I never meant to be a website designer. I initially started out as a relatively successful salesperson beating the streets and convincing businesses that this thing called the Internet had some merit and it was here to stay. I would consult on CMS software, website design, and online marketing back in the early days of 2002.

Today, I'm slightly balder, MOBLE is my third business and I'm heavily involved in various technology startups. All my businesses have involved website design in one form or another, and at times as an entrepreneur, you just have to get your hands dirty, and do it all yourself, by virtue I became a website designer. Website design is something I've now been playing with now for about eight years, and while it remains a passion, even after this time I'm still not always comfortable referring to myself as a designer. I'd say my strengths are less in the art of design, and more in the art of inspiration. I think that basically means I'm influenced by what I see working for other people, then apply my own take on them. When I do this, in some form, I've always considered myself to be a somewhat of a fraud. I wonder if other designers feel like this too?

“Good writers borrow, great writers steal”

TS Elliott


THE SHORTCUT APPROACH

We all know there are trends in design, fashion, tastes, your name it. Even our dialects have trends that ultimately form our accents, one of the most prominent features of our own identities. As people, we are naturally inspired by each other.

Trends are formed by a process of sequential inspiration, where something so striking inspires one person, that in turn inspires another, and so on. Sometimes people are inspired by the same thing at such a frequency that a trend or a movement is formed. These movements go on to define our cultures and are stamped in time. The way we speak, the way we dress, the way we think, it all begins with inspiration.

The history if web design is no different; with its bleak, text-based beginnings at the start of the Internet, to Web 2.0 with its shiny bubbles and drop shadow, to skeuomorphism with textures and realism, to flat design with negative space and more abstract two-dimensional illustrations.

Since its beginning website designs have often looked a little 'samey'. As a designer, you know you need to stay on the edge, but you must also deliver something that the client wants, that is right for their business, at this particular moment in time. I guess this is why as designers, we often have this feeling of being fraudulent, and perhaps this is a roundabout way of saying that this is ok.

With this in mind, if you're a new designer and you acknowledge that you are going to be inspired, then your aim becomes explicitly simple; your aim should quite simply be to make sure you find the best sources of inspiration, to be inspired by the best.


ARE WEBSITE DESIGNERS FORCED TO BE FRAUDULENT?

Perhaps, no more so than any other art form, web design changes have often been led by the combined limitations and advancements of technology, such as site speed, HTML, Flash, CSS, frameworks, browsers, and devices.

With such limitations, arguably website design might be more disposed to imitation and a granular influence and inspiration than any other art form. We’re all really still babies on the Internet. Here we are in the primitive days of 2018, before virtual reality and artificial intelligence have become staples of everyday design life and long before this particular website designer ever got paid in cryptocurrency for design work.

Fairly recently, I recall an article implicating that InterfaceLovers was more than a touch inspired by the same grid design. Both websites produce great content and take advantage of the same grid scroll effect, though both have their unique subtleties at a more granular level of UI and UX.

Is one inspired by the other? Is this fraudulent, or simply two companies taking advantage of the latest scroll effect?

What do you think, same, same, or different?


AN EXPERIMENT. HOW ETHICAL IS 'DESIGN INSPIRATION'?

As an entrepreneur turned website designer, I by no means think of myself as a leading designer. Certainly, not to the extent as my dear friends here at MOBLE. However, I’m heavily involved enough in our client projects in terms of prototyping, data-driven design and user experience to call myself an expert. I've worked intimately on well over 2,000 website projects, so I know how to spot a good website design when I see one and know enough to replicate a website insanely quickly using MOBLE.

Having recently been in LA for the Digital Thinkers AWWWARDS conference and armed with their book “Best Websites from around the World”, I decided to run an experiment. The book showcased the ’Site Of The Day’ websites as voted on AWWWARDS in chronological order through 2016. I decided to take inspiration from these layouts as part of a testing exercise for MOBLE and remake as many of the pages as I could in an intensive day of testing.

I then challenged our design team at MOBLE, to use some of these new test layouts on client projects. We would see if we could detect where the original inspiration came from and if so by how much would it be considered fraudulent.


THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED...


STEP 1: Choose the Layout

Being a bit nervous at potential outright copying a website design, I visited AWWWARDS, to find an old 'Site of the Day' winning website, that I knew had since been redesigned.

I selected fellow Australian designer, Andy Thelander’s company Active Theory, based out of LA. Many website designers would be familiar with Andy and Active Theory’s truly inspirational work and their contribution to browser-based animation.

I selected their old v3 website (click here if you're interested to view their latest v4 website) and went right to the heart of the company's website, to take inspiration from their 'Work' page, as seen here:

Active Theory V3

STEP 2: Remake the layout on MOBLE CMS

I then remade the page on MOBLE, as you can see here:

STEP 3: Produce the layout on a client website

We were working on a website for a concrete strengthening company, called Slabtec. The team put the layout to test in an attempt to make concrete strengthening look sexy.

Here you can see the newly created layout on to the 'Work' page of Slabtec, for the work they did at the Sydney's Olympic ANZ Stadium. Nice concrete!

As you can see we made enough variation to make it unique, including a load on scroll animation for their logo in the body of the page.

The inspiration we took got us off to a rapid start. You might recall from Episode 3 where we discuss design inspiration in our Workshops, inspiration can be used to rapidly align team member to find what they want. Your job as a designer can then be made much easier, to get to an end goal and sign off rapidly within the time frames of a project budget. As you can see from the example above you can still apply enough of you own customisations to tailor the inspiration specifically for the content of the page. You might take inspiration from many websites and apply them to individual layouts, taking inspiration from many designs and merging them to make them your own.

So now witnessing the flow of inspiration execution of a new web page design, what are your thoughts? Is this copying, or is this being inspired by influences and trends? Am I a fraud?


LOOKING FOR DESIGN INSPIRATION?

In Series 3, you'll learn the MOBLE Visual Page Editor and how it can be used to remake almost any web page in moments. In Episode 3 you learned how the MOBLE workshop process can take the subjectivity out of the design process. 

With such powerful tools and processes at your fingertips, your design challenge now is to find the very best sauces of inspiration. To assist, we asked the MOBLE team to compile a list of our favourite inspirational websites, and of course, rank each from 10-1 in order of importance. The top four are listed below. If you're looking for design inspiration for your web pages, consider subscribing to these feeds to stay up-to-date with the latest design trends from around the globe.

WEBSITE
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