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Design Envy : Make it Work For You!

It’s natural, it happens to the best of us. And it is certainly nothing to be ashamed of. We see a design that not only makes us stop in our tracks, but it makes us feel the creeping reach of that green eyed monster, envy. Though jealousy of this nature can have a hugely positive impact on your creative drive if you manage the monster correctly.


This kind of design envy can usually lead you in one of either two completely different directions, and it is up to you to decide exactly where you let it lead you. Just like the poles have opposites and every yang has its darker yin, these two paths that are enviously presented take you on either the path of light, or its darker twin. The lighter leading you towards the lap of inspired luxury, while the darker taking you towards design destruction. It essentially breaks down like this…

Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood…

While experiencing the effects of the green eye, you can either let your envy stir your passion to create a design on par with that which has brought about the monster’s presence. Or you can let it take you the more uninspired route towards essentially copying the design to call it your own. Make no mistake about it, there is a big difference between letting a design inspire you and trying to rise to the occasion, and letting the envy take you down the darker path towards duplicating a major portion of the design into yours.


Inspiration is not a creative force to be taken lightly, so when you find a design that moves you into that arena, it is fine to honor and pay homage to the piece, but overall you still want to have your own voice and style represented in the work. And there are ways to do that without falling victim to the lazy minded trap of ‘borrowing’ from the design you are inspired by. Below are a few of those ways that will help keep you on course on the lighter path and keep your work seen as inspired works from a similar vein, not as uninspired rip-offs.

Read Between the Lines

You want to find out what the piece is saying, or at least conveying to you, and that is what you want to try and make your own. You want to read between the lines, and find that underlying message that is being transferred and find your own unique way to say that same thing. This way you are being true to the design that inspired you, but you are not stealing from the work, just trying to say the same thing with your voice.

Homage Your Favorite Elements

Another way you can emulate without copying the work that has inspired you is to find the elements that pop in the design and speak to you, and pay homage to those elements by working them into your design in creative and newly inspired ways. This way your design it still your own and is saying whatever you intended, you simply have honored the design that inspired you with some highlights on certain similarly styled elements.

Method to the Madness

Another way that you can easily take that inspiration in your own directions is to look at the methods behind the design, the building blocks that allowed this design be wrought into fruition. Incorporate these methods and tactics into your design process to help find your foundation for your project. Even though it may not be a recognizable homage to the piece that you were originally inspired by, it will still have similar roots while maintaining more of a unique presentation and feel.

You’re Doing it Wrong!

Below are a few things that you may think qualifies as mere inspiration, but it is actually not a case of design envy, as much as it is just design theft. So make sure as you set out to pay homage, you are not crossing over the line and entering reputationally marring design areas. Besides the means we discussed above that lead you to greener pastures, avoid the following list of faux-pas we finish up with and your inspired designs will be just that.

  • Color Variances – Simply altering the colors does not make this a re-imagined creation of your very own. While hue does play a huge role in design, it is not what makes it original.
  • Inspired Rotation – Taking a popular design you like and simply rotating it, also does not earn you a triumph. Still a fail. 180 degrees does not change that much.
  • Design Shemping – Just because the Three Stooges thought they could simply replace Curly with Shemp and recycle the rest of the elements doesn’t make it a model for success.
  • Buried 6ft Under – Taking a design and ‘Myspacing’ the crap out of it, burying the original work you ‘borrowed’ beneath miles of superfluous unnecessary elements is not a way to win.

Enviable Designs: An inspired showcase

Below are some designs that stir up a little design envy for me and Angie, my partner in freelancing and life. We have decided to showcase them in order to get you thinking about your online design interactions and which ones have left you with that inspired envy.

Burton Board Finder UI

When it comes to user interface design, there is an element of limitation as there must be some inherent control and navigation for the users, but the interface design for Burton’s online snowboard shop is both creatively and magnificently plotted and executed.


The Readies by Jihad Linham

The Readies an amazing type rich design by Jihad Linham comes in to complete this inspired envious look. Struggling with typographical design, makes Angie an avid typophile studying anything typography related she can get her hands on.


Signalnoise Art Gallery UI

James White is the amazingly talented artist and designer behind Signalnoise and if his gallery weren’t enough to inspire a little design envy, then the gallery interface on the site just might. The UI is intoxicatingly fluid and interactive.


Heart of a Dragon by Videa

Videa, on Deviant Art, is another skilled graphic artist whose rich, vibrant work does tend to bring in the green eye. Heart of a Dragon is one such piece. Studying fantastic photomanipulations to learn new ways of combining images and working out composition is a fav skill building activity of Angie’s.


Microbot Website UI

Another well crafted and imaginatively constructed website UI comes from graphic artist and designer David Fuhrer, aka Microbot. The site’s latest incarnation is another in a string of well devised and implemented interfaces.


Custom Toys by Julie Hill

Julie Hill is an extremely talented artist with an enviable skill for creating whimsical and intricate designs, like she has done with her Custom Toys collection. Angie has always been a huge fan of toy design and have found many munnys that pique her jealousy. And a handful of them are right here.


That is All For Now

So that does it for this end of the design envy discussion, but there is a comment section below just waiting for you to continue the discussion, either through addressing some of the points brought up in the post, or by leaving a link to the designs that make you jealous with a few words as to why,

  • Design Envy : Make it Work For You!
    [See the full post at: Design Envy : Make it Work For You!]

  •  April

    Great article, Robert! The “Heart of a Dragon” image is stunning. Truly inspirational.

  •  Rob Bowen

    Thanks, April! I have to agree with you about the image. That was one that Angie found, and I spend so much time now just staring at.

  •  Anna Green

    I think every designer goes through this turmoil and when you are under a lot of pressure to deliver great designs in minimal time it can be tempting to heavily borrow from other designs. But there is much to be learned from coping, when trying to replicate something exactly you dissect a design and realise design elements and tricks that you would otherwise have never found, but there’s a line to be drawn i think for people just starting out in design or any artistic medium copying has much to teach, whats important is that you then take what you have learned and develop your own style and thought processes, otherwise your just a trained monkey drawing boxes.

  •  Leo K

    I like the Othello reference: envy/jealousy being the green eyed monster. Nice.

  •  wparena

    This is very good concept and thoughts that You made Design as sacred thinking. While creating something designers should have clear mind and must respect this profession.
    I think, by keeping these thoughts and ideas in mind during design process, the work would be present a NEW Concept.

  •  Syzygy

    But it’s ok to take a template blog design and throw up another cut&paste design blog and call it original and your own, while recycling the usual top-10,top40, and other useless articles already done to death? Good job on your epic fail.

  •  Rob Bowen

    Thanks for your thoughts Anna. I appreciate you taking the time to examine the idea further. I agree, there is a lot that can be learned from copying. Take most tutorials for instance. People go through each step without letting the process sink in. When they get to the end they have duplicated the results but some times they cannot recreate the effect or process b/c they were just going through the motions. Anyways, I appreciate the kind words.

  •  Rob Bowen

    Thanks, Leo. I am a fan of the Bard’s work. 😀

  •  Rob Bowen

    😀 Thank you. I am glad that the piece resonated.

  •  Rob Bowen

    Actually, you are talking to two different people first off. I wrote the article, but this is not my site. Also, given your cowardly comment approach where you have excluded your name and your own site, throwing stones may make you look a little childish and silly.

    Also, especially when sites are just starting out, they tend to use an established theme to get them rolling until they find their way to a design that speaks to them and encompasses their mission. As for the content, Ferman is working with guest posters to come up with some content, but especially in the beginning most sites follow the popular post model that other sites have seemed to push as the direction for design blogging.

    So until you can direct us to your all original, groundbreaking content then perhaps you need to back off of Ferman and anyone else who actually takes time to put content together. Even if it is not in your taste.

    And if you were really that concerned about original content, you wouldn’t have come to this post (which biasedly I say is not the same old recycled ideas that I have seen over and over again.) In fact, not sure I have seen a post of this vein but would like to see others so if you have any links you could provide, that would be awesome.

  •  Julianne

    Wow. I loved most of these. This is certainly NOT a “meh” list.

  •  Noel Wiggins

    What a great topic, Indeed the line from inspiration to copying is a fine one, I hate when I see a design that is so perfect for the project I am working on I feel that pull to make the same decisions, Then of course quotes like “if there is anything worth stealing I will steal it.” from picasso. resonate.

    what I find interesting is that if I set out to try and “copy” something I learn a lot in terms of the details that make that design effective, I try and push the design further to separate my design from the original, but I have to admit I wished that I was able to put the pieces together myself without the inspiration.

    I love the tips offered here and I will push to try and interpret what makes the design good, while adding my own voice to the exercise.

    Thanks and Regards

  •  Rob Bowen

    Thanks, Julianne, I really appreciate that.

  •  Rob Bowen

    Hey Noel

    I thank you for the thoughtful response. Good to know that it effectively landed. And like you said, when done right, there is a lot that you can learn when adapting a piece or pieces of it into your own work.

    It may not always be the easiest thing to do, but the fact that you are trying is awesome! Thanks again.


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