Great Designers Steal (or Not)

When (and when not) to be “inspired” by other people’s work

In my first year out of college, I have to admit that I could not resist starting a design project by going to Behance or Dribbble to “get inspired” first. However, as I grew in my career, I learned that it’s not a good habit. It helps get the project off the ground faster, but it’s not ideal for your career if you want to become something more than a designer. There is no judgement on doing this, as I’m still addicted to Dribbble, but it’s no longer a mandatory step in my design process.


A great design doesn’t start with a single great idea, whether it’s original or stolen. A great design is built through a collaborative and iterative process with a clear strategy. You can utilize the colors from this beautiful work on Dribbble, interactions from an awesome app on your phone, and the user experience from a popular design agency’s work. You combine all of those elements into this new design that you’re doing and execute them so well that there is no hint of the things that inspired it. It will be a beautiful work, because you distilled the best of the best into your work. But when you’re asked to explain your process, which you will be at many points in your career, what will be the main drive of your design? Other people’s work?


It’s always great to look at nice work done by other people, but it should not be the soul of your own work. You should set boundaries for how much you are willing to borrow from others.


You should first have a design direction that make sense to the project. In your research phase, of course, you’re going to have to look around, but don’t be literal in doing this. For example: You’re creating a non-profit website for organization in Egypt. Don’t google “Egypt non-profit” or “non-profit website”, try “Arabic writing” or “Egyptian patch work” instead.


Of course, even if you have original ideas you might find their cousin somewhere online. But when you think it through from the seed of an idea, you can better explain and create opportunities for yourself to develop further. The main inspiration of your design should be what you have learned from your client and users. The outcome of your work should be crafted into what makes the most sense for your end-users.
In an article talking about ways to think smartly about creative Elizabeth Gilbert–author of “Eat, Pray, Love” discussed her point of view on original works as followed:

“I am no fan of the aspiration to do original work. First of all, that creates an enormous amount of anxiety… The only way that you can create authentic work is to, with great humility and great faith and great curiosity, follow your own inquisitiveness, wherever it takes you, and trust that whatever comes out of you will feel original. That while other people may have done the same thing, you didn’t do it yet, and as soon as you do it and put your mark on it, it will, by its own right, start to feel original, as long as it has that authentic heart.”

Asif Khan