Earlier this year, I worked with a client to build a membership site. During the project setup, I asked said client if she had any other sites/brands/courses she liked so we could get some design ideas going. Surprisingly, she had 4-5 URLs for me (you’d be surprised how many clients have 0 until I talk to them.)

Fantastic start! After talking with her, some must-have items became clear, and I was ready to create a couple of mockups.

On our next call (after she had reviewed the mockups), the conversation went something like this:

“I like the layout of option 1, and the colors of option 2. But I also spent more time in XYZ’s course and I really love the way they have the navigation menu. Could you incorporate that into my course?”

“Sure! I will start setting up the test site and get back to you.”

After the test site was created and he client had a chance to play around in it, I received an email from her.

“It looks great so far! I love the big images on top of all the pages, and the nav menu looks great. I also noticed that XYZ has this cool button (here) and I think I’d really like to use the fonts they’re using for everything. Oh, and what about the type of footer they have? I think it would be awesome on my site.”

….you begin to get the idea.

It’s interesting the mix of projects I get – either a client has almost no idea what they want, or they know exactly what they want, which just happens to be exactly what they’ve seen somewhere else. In the first case, I can guide clients along by asking questions and providing visual options, but in the second, it’s a matter of tactfully explaining that they are being a copycat.

Look, I totally get wanting a site that looks exactly like another, and just replacing the content with your own. That’s what themes are for, and WordPress was MADE for themes! But I often wonder why we are so keen to piece together our own versions of what we like. Is it fear of striking out on our own? Is it lack of confidence? Is it not knowing our own customers well enough so we just assume they’re like this other person’s customers?

Either way, I’m a firm believer that you can either be a first-rate YOU or a second-rate imitation.While I LOVE using inspiration, imitation takes much of the joy out of any project for me.

If you’re ever wondering which territory you’re in, ask yourself how many sources you are pulling from, how closely your design resembles another, and how much of it is actually in YOUR voice (and not the voice you’re pretending to have.) Can you look at the current result and think, “Yes, this is me”? Or are you just trying to look professional/hip/authoritative like XYZ?

*Names omitted or edited to protect…err…something.