This may surprise many designers but there’s no need for our designs to be unique. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that there are very few truly unique designs created in any given year. The rest of us know that we’re not required to start designing tomorrow’s supercar by starting to design the wheel.
Think User Interfaces
There are long standing conventions in the UI world. For example; the floppy disc icon means “save my work” and that’s as true today as it was when it was introduced. This might seem peculiar because the floppy disk icon itself refers to a medium which has gone the way of the Dodo – no-one uses floppy disks any more. So why does the icon stay the same?
It’s because users are familiar with it. They don’t need another icon to say “save my work” because they have one that they know and that they recognize and that they can easily identify what it will do.
You could spend a whole bunch of time designing a different save icon but we’d be happy to visit the bookmaker and bet against you making it stick.
Designs are supposed to improve things not change them for change’s sake. In fact many of the worst UX failures of all time were designs that solved problems that nobody had. If you want your designs to stick; they’ve got to benefit someone. That’s why in 100 years when no-one has even seen a floppy disk except on the pages of Wikipedia that save icon is still going to be with us.
Inspiration not Duplication
Having said that… while it’s fine to use a save icon that looks like a floppy disk. You are not supposed to brazenly copy people’s work either. It can be very tempting, we know but they call that copyright theft where I come from and you get sued and have to pony up some cash to make the problem go away if you do it.
There may be 10 million websites out there (or more – who cares? It’s not like we’ll ever visit 10 million of them) and one of them may be “just perfect” for your project. That’s awesome and it’s going to save you a ton of time. As a designer you can work out what you like about that site; the colour, the detail, the layout, etc. and then go and create something similar.
Using other people’s work for inspiration is an essential. Writers, designers, artists, do it all the time. Your designs don’t have to be totally unique they can build on what’s gone before but they can’t steal what’s gone before.
One Last Thing
It’s worth remembering that many of the truly unique ideas people have are never heard at all. Why? Because… well, most of them aren’t built to succeed. It’s not that unique never succeeds – true innovation does happen but it doesn’t happen that much. It’s better to build something interesting than to build something new most of the time – you have a much better chance of success if you do.