ATLANTA WEB DESIGN BLOG
Thoughts, Tips and Incoherent Ramblings from Airtight Design
Steal Like a Web Designer (Just Like I Did For This Title)
“Good artists copy. Great artists steal.”
– Pablo Picasso
You’ve probably heard that quote before, and there’s a great book by Austin Kleon entitled Steal Like An Artist that takes that idea and further develops it for creatives. He gave a brief Ted Talk in 2015 that gives a quick overview of how he came up with that title, and explains how (hear him out) it’s okay to steal.
Kleon points out that artists have been building on previous ideas for centuries. Music is one of the best examples of this. When you hear a remix of an original song, it has elements of the original, but it also stands alone as its own unique piece. Designers of all types are not exempt from the ability to do this, and I would encourage you to do so.
Each year, you see articles published about “Best Web Design Trends of [insert year].” They are always worth checking out, but the danger in basing too much of anything off of them is that there will be another new (and often very different) web design trend the next year. Instead of copying the trend exactly, study it, recognize what it is that appeals to you, and then find creative ways to use aspects of it in your own designs. Strive for something more timeless than the latest fad.
At Airtight, this type of technique applies heavily to our competitive analysis of other companies when the time comes to design websites for our clients. It is good practice to look at other websites that are in direct competition (or in the same marketing space) as the client you are working with, especially if their industry is one that you know very little about. It’s a great way to ignite inspiration, but you want to be careful what you do with what you find.
Ultimately, you need to use your own voice as a web designer and also reflect the voice of the client. Plagiarism is alive and well but not any more accepted than when you wrote those boring reports in high school. Do not copy; however, you can remix. Best practices in any field didn’t just come about one day by a single individual, they are the result of ongoing refinement for decades.
At Airtight, every design must be intuitive for users. We pay attention to the design theories and UX best practices. It is priority #1 that the user is able to easily find what they are looking for when it comes to a website or app that we design. Our mobile-first mindset allows us to strip away decoration in favor of necessary components. But “less is more” doesn’t have to be boring. In fact, it creates opportunities to make that content more interesting by way of interactivity. The more engaging a website is, the longer the user will stay on it. After all, we aren’t designing printed pieces of paper (actually we still do sometimes). There are endless resources that provide many different ways to achieve this.
In the end, to “Steal Like an Artist” isn’t actually stealing at all. It’s really taking pieces of something that inspires you and finding new ways to use it while making it your own. By no means are we advocating for direct replicas of something that already exists; we are instead pushing for more progress on ideas that have been in the works for generations. As Austin Kleon says “…transform it into something new and then put it out into the world so that we can steal from you.”