Ethical dilemma of the day: Compare and contrast kottke.org with obscurestore.com. Do they look similar? Yes. Very. Is this a problem? No – they both work very well and, moreover, were both designed by Jason Kottke anyway.
I have been thinking seriously about starting up another site recently – a site that I’ve been thinking about on and off for a few years now. I don’t think it would be particularly labour-intensive to maintain and I think it could be useful and would be good for me. Now in essence it’s going to be very much like obscurestore.com except with a different subject matter.
The longer I think about it, the more that Obscure Store has got everything right – they list a few major stories with details, a few lesser ones without – there’s a bar with links in it to all the major sources of information on his subject matter. The design is so clean and simple that it almost doesn’t appear to be designed at all. Which surely is the mark of truly great design?
So the question comes down to something as simple as this – when a design has got right to the simple essence of what a ‘thing’ (in this case a website) is about, then is ‘copying’ appropriate? Clearly I’d be furious if someone copied plasticbag.org without my permission. Even if they changed the colours and fonts and stuck a different background image in place… I suppose what I’m asking is whether or not Jason has refined the design essence of the weblog down to it’s basics in the same way that Amazon has for e-commerce sites. And of course now a great many e-commerce sites (even the largest ones) look exactly like Amazon. I suppose what I’m asking is how much of this design can I steal?