Product Design Lessons

Creative Direction  |   Lesson #17

How to Not Abuse Design Patterns

Learn ways to keep yourself from just copying others work — and become a source of inspiration yourself.

1. Look for more than one.

There’s nothing wrong with getting jazzed about an aesthetic — a look, a style, a color. And there’s nothing wrong with following a trend. But as you try to apply it to your own work, check out how it’s been applied to other samples. For example, if you love intricate details in someone else’s call-to-action button, see if you can find pieces of art that use the same style. You may even find something you like more.

samples that use red

Above: There are great shades of red, and then there are warm colors — and many ways to apply them — like these samples at Pattern Tap.

2. Look for ideas in all the wrong places.

Laying out a home page? Look at vintage magazines. Designing an icon? Check out trading cards. Streamlining user flow? Study innovative restaurants. Many design principles transcend media. Good work is good work. You can find great ideas by turning old ones on their head, by reimagining what’s come before — and you’re sure to avoid copying.

samples of sites with rough textures

Above: A great rough texture can inspire many others, like these taken from Pattern Tap.

3. Consider if it’s the right solution for your users.

Just because you appreciate someone else’s work doesn’t make their final iteration appropriate for the problem you’re trying to solve. Good ideas don’t disappear if you don’t use them — you can refer back to them later. Keep a scrapbook of inspiring ideas, or submit them to Pattern Tap to share with your peers.

About the instructor


Ben Gremillion is a Design Writer at ZURB. He started his career in newspaper and magazine design, saw a digital future, and learned HTML in short order. He facilitates the ZURB training courses.