Borrowing design ideas?

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?