Duncan Riley> In my first ethics post, I talked about the ethical use of text, but didn’t consider the use of the design in the equation, hence today’s post: Inspiration not copying, which covers both the ethical side of design, as well as being a handy guide on blog design itself.
Tip 2: Inspiration not copying
I once heard somebody argue that there is very little originality on the internet and most site look alike. To some extent they were true, and after 10 years online I’m the first to admit that very little of what appears today on the internet provides a “wow” factor in terms of pushing boundaries in appearance and design. Basically, it’s nearly all be done before, and to some extent the mainstreaming of the internet as a whole is the net result of this. Blogs are perhaps even more guilty of perpetuating a blandness of design,with most blogs following a simple, basic layout popularised by Blogger. But all is not lost. There are some good examples out their of aesthetically pleasing blogs, albeit aesthetics being a subjective topic at best, and you to can be different by being inspired but without copying.
The template dilemma
Most blog packages these days offer a variety of standard templates with varying degrees of customisation, but despite this may still just pick the basic template and leave it at that. Fair enough, if that’s what they’d prefer, but having your blog look the same as 1 million others hosted at Blogger doesn’t really provide a visual point of differentiation if you’re trying to build audience. Many blogging tools these days offer easy access “under the hood” if you like that allow even beginners the ability to tweak their design. Lot of sites are now popping up that provide downloadable templates, for exampleAlex King, who provides a variety of different templates that are available for use. On my own personal blog for example, I utilise the Kubrick design from Michael Heilemann, somewhat changed but the crux of it still the same. At the bottom you’ll find the link and credit. How are there ethics in templates you may well ask, well, if you must use a non-blog host provided template, and there a plenty of good options out there now, remember to give credit to the designer on your page, most of the work is done voluntarily and its good blog karma to give credit where credit is due. Whilst there is no ethical requirement for you to change the layout, I’d still tweak it a little none the less, if only to be different.
Personally I don’t normally follow the template route aside from the base code to display posts and the like, but like art there is nothing new, only new interpretations consisting of a variety of influences, which themselves were interpretations, etc…. you get the picture. The design of The Blog Herald is strongly influenced by the masters of the blogiverse, Denton and Calacanis, particularly regards the text left, two navigation columns right layout, and yet it is not the same. I’ll also let you in on another secret, I’ve actually personally perused the code from probably half a dozen Gawker Media and Weblogsinc sites to see how the do it. I also tend to look at code whenever I see something I like and I’m wondering how its done anywhere, anytime I’m looking at blogs and other pages on the internet. Why? well the best way to design your own blog is to understand how others do it and be inspired by their efforts. The difference in terms of ethics? I’ve been inspired by others but haven’t copied them directly, and I’ve given my own interpretation. Many may argue against copyright, but I can tell you now, if someone stole the code of this site and copied it without asking I would be mighty mad, and I’m sure if I did the same to someone else, the same would apply with them. Copyright is not just about legalities, it is also a question of ethics as well.
But I still want to copy code!
OK, there is a simple way around wanting to copy code, ask. If you’ve stumbled across a site you like the layout of, particularly if its not high profile, it certainly doesn’t hurt to ask where they got their design from, of whether they’d mind if you copies some of the code for your own site. Some sites even actively provide the code for you to do so. The moral is, you can copy if you ask, but ethically you must ask before copying.
But I copied and no one noticed
Well then, I could argue on religious grounds about what goes around, comes around, but it comes down to this, whilst ethics are not a precise science, not being caught does not make your action ethical, and in the blogosphere, some one will eventually work it out, it might not be today, or tomorrow, but they’ll eventually find out, and if you’ve been trying to build a positive reputation in your chosen niche, a scandal of ethics can well and truly set you back in your quest to conquer the blogosphere.