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Borrowing design ideas?

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I was surfing the web today in search of good examples of university/college web designs for an upcoming proposal. I had a two-pronged plan. Step one, visit sites for schools that I was already familiar with as well as viewing sites from the colleges of OSU. Step two, visit edustyle for a sampling of the latest in higher education web designs.

I fired up Firefox and surfed to the websites of Virginia Tech and the University of Tennessee – Knoxville. I’ve visited their sites before and appreciated their overall look and feel.

My next step was to open up tabs for each of the College sites for OSU. The College of Health and Human Sciences, Education, Ag Sciences, Science, Forestry, etc.

Then I opened up the OSU College of Engineering website. My jaw hit my desk and my eyes were agape. The Virginia Tech homepage and the College of Engineering homepage were like twins that had never met each other. The color schemes, backgrounds and grids were extremely similar. I wasn’t sure if it was pilfering, borrowing or at best, design inspiration?

The screenshots really tell the tale…

Virginia Tech website homepage:
Virginia Tech homepage screenshot

OSU College of Engineering website homepage:
OSU College of Engineering website screenshot

I even went into Illustrator and traced the grid system that was used for each site…The primary (and perhaps the only substantial) difference between the VT grid and the OSU COE grid is that the VT sites uses a horizontal bar that spans the entire length of the grid while the OSU COE grid uses a vertical bar. The vertical nav bar is in line with the OSU web template and my guess is that a horizontal bar that matched the VT site would have been too blatant.

Virginia Tech grid:
Virginia Tech homepage grid

OSU College of Engineering grid:
OSU College of Engineering grid

I think it’s fairly ironic that a post on stealing by Jeffrey Zeldman was waiting tonight in my RSS feed… It simply said this: “Don’t worry about people stealing your design work. Worry about the day they stop.”

What do you think? What similarities or differences do you see?

Written by Eric Stoller

December 5th, 2007 at 8:37 pm

  • http://vegankid.solidaritydesign.net vegankid

    this looks like it could be a case of inspiration that has caused a creativity block. without looking at the code, which I don’t have time to do right now, I can’t be for sure. Definitely a lot of similarities, though. The color schemes are what peak my interest the most.

    I agree with Zeldman. Its shitty when someone rips off your design (even more annoying, to me, is when they rip off your code), cuz its the culmination of all your time and creativity and you aren’t being compensated for it. But worrying about tracking down the talentless losers just isn’t worth the effort imho.

  • http://www.supacoo.com SupaCoo

    Greetings Eric – I went to school with you at UNI (one of Krissi’s roommates) and saw you on LinkedIn which linked me here… Anyway.

    As a web developer, I get a lot of code ideas from other sources, but would never STEAL (re-creating it to meet my needs, sure!). Because these two sites are so blatantly similar, and because I have no background in academia, I have to wonder – is it a possibility that one group/person could have developed both? Do students usually do the work on these sites, and if so, could that student have transferred from one school to another? Or, is it done as it is in my world, by a design firm who might want to re-use some of their work? These two sites are shockingly similar – too similar to be a coincidence, but I’m not willing to go so far as to say full-on stolen. I’m guessing someone said, “Hey, look what I did at OSU!” and everyone loved it and wanted it for VT.

    Of course, that’s just trying to give the benefit of the doubt. In reality, it’s probably more along the lines of one trying to, er, adapt the other to their needs. In any matter, I think the designs are sharp, clean, and well put together, so someone should be commended.

  • http://kerplow.com Reid Parham

    Chris Richard, BFA Graphic Design class of 2007, was the designer for the OSU page.

  • http://kerplow.com Reid Parham

    Archive.org’s Internet Wayback Machine says the VT site went live in early August 2006. OSU’s site went up mid-November 2006. Hmmm.

  • FinanceBuzz

    I see some similarities but I think it is more of a case of inspiration than pilfering. Had you not been posting them side by side, I am not sure I would have picked up on the similarities. Of course, I am not a creative type so me missing things like would not be earth-shattering! :)

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  • http://www.simplybeautifulspaces.com kate

    I’ve had my website stolen twice …and now redesigned it for the third time only to find out an Australian design company took my name and my pats of my design. Initially I was peeved, but realize that they have no original thought and because of that, they won’t succeed for long in their business.

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