University Web Developers

University Web Developers

I've only been in the Higher Ed industry for 4 months now, but in that time, I've looked at just about every university site in the United States. I've come across many similar designs out there, but today I came across one that seems to have possibly borrowed a little too much.

The University of Alabama - Huntsville ( http://www.uah.edu ) has redesigned their site sometime in the past 6 months or so. I'm not exactly sure when, but my colleague pointed it out to me. When I went to their site this morning, it immediately struck me as VERY familiar. I spent about 15 minutes trying to track down where I had seen that design before and traced it back to Brown University ( http://brown.edu ).

While UAH doesn't make their menu interactive like Brown does (maybe they thought that would be borrowing too much) it is obviously a design borrowed heavily from the Brown homepage.

My question is this: How far is too far when 'borrowing' ideas from other websites? Did UAH go too far, or did they go just far enough as to keep the design their own?

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Eric Stoller has a nice blog post on this http://ericstoller.com/blog/2007/12/05/borrowing-design-ideas/

re: How far is too far -- For me, as a designer, I get a dirty feeling if I even think about ripping something off (except shoplifting, I'm with Winona on that one). Then again, to take inspiration from something you really like is only natural, but you better add some of your own spices and stir the pot really good before you put it on the table...
Thanks for posting the link to Eric Stoller's blog entry. It's yet another example of what I'm talking about.

I agree that finding inspiration from other sites is only natural (critical actually to gain an eye for great design), but you had better make it your own before publicly displaying it. To flat out take something that isn't yours, and say that it is yours really is not the best professional practice.

It looks like UAH even has the same code as Brown...
Yep...it looks like Brown's "master.css" became UAH's "master2.css".

Not good. Getting inspiration is one thing, but using the same css is really bad form.
The follow-up post confirmed that the designs were in fact "borrowed" and a deal seems to have begrudgingly set in place - http://ericstoller.com/blog/2007/12/09/borrowing-designs-confirmed/
I emailed UAH regarding this similarity and here is their reply:

Yes, we are aware of the similarity and have changed the page to the
configuration you see now. Our lawyers and web consultants assure us that we
are "significantly different" enough from the page in question.

That said, I hope that we will have a totally new design up by January which
will reflect our first effort in branding UAHuntsville.
Web consultants? They paid someone off-site to create their Web presence, and they just copied another .edu's design??? If true - OUCH.

Found this interesting (adds to our discussion):
http://www.uahunderground.com/forum/index.php/topic,2963.0.html

--"Did they change the website again today? It doesn't seem to move anymore, and now there's and "atmosphere" background. the bottom photo does seem to change now."

--"Rumor has it that UAH received a "cease and desist" order from Brown University over the plagiarized material."
I haven't seen a marquee tag in like six years!

Look, if you're going to steal somebody else's design, the least you could do is improve on it, not mess it up with horrible inaccessible deprecated tags.

Seriously, I'm a big fan of borrowing good ideas from others, but I also believe in adapting and changing them to be truly your own. If you look at my blog, Future Endeavour, it's all about discovering the best ideas in higher ed Web design, but it isn't about just appropriating other people's work as your own. What UAH has done is a sign of an uninspired hack, not an inspired designer. Shame on them.
There is drawing inspiration and then there is outright copying. I'm afraid all signs in this example point to the latter. I think it is beneficial to any designer to draw inspiration from great websites, but you are always better to use multiple sources (on and off the web) and throw in your own creativity. Obviously I think there is benefit in drawing inspiration from within your industry (why else would I run a site like eduStyle?) but unless we also look outside of our industry and try new ideas we're going to just recycle the same good and bad ideas. Brown is a good example of trying something new (for the better or worse) and I applaud them for thinking outside of the box.
Reminds me of the time I took a test and gave all incorrect answers b/c I knew classmates were copying. The teacher was holding ME accountable for THEIR cheating. (My fault not covering my paper enough...WHAT!?!?!?!?) So, after I'd given wrong answers to the test and all else turned in papers, I set myself to erasing.

Too bad we can't solve life's problems the way we did in 9th grade....

What a shame that those who do the cheating sometimes grow up to be cheaters. Sounds like whoever "designed" UA-Huntsville's site really has no idea about our industry. If he/she/they did, they'd know something like that is definitely noticeable to folks like us, and we can spot copied code a mile away.

"Yes, we are aware of the similarity and have changed the page to the
configuration you see now. Our lawyers and web consultants assure us that we
are "significantly different" enough from the page in question."


Hmmm...significantly different. What ever happened to "ethics"?
I guess that's why there's never been any debate over the melody for Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and the ABC's. ;-) The words make them just different enough. =sigh=
Brown University and Pentagram Inc. should start a web template business at this rate. A College site within the Ohio State University site has stolen Brown's code right down to the CSS comments!
Has anybody contacted the RIAA to see who holds the copyright for Twinkle Twinkle?
Wow! Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but geez this is taking it a little too far, no?!

That's too funny that The OU left comments from BU in the CSS.

Anyone from The OU reading this discussion?!

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