How to be inspired without copying someone’s work

How to be inspired without copying someone’s work

Kathy Nguyen's Layout avatar

So you’ve been recently inspired, huh?  

Inspiration can strike at any moment! Maybe it happened while you were looking for it on Pinterest or maybe you found it while reading a magazine. However you find it, it’s important to value the original designer’s work and ensure you don’t copy it yourself. 

man in blue shirt in front of orange background holds a computer

It’s easy to blur the line between inspiration and copying. You might’ve seen someone’s idea and now you can’t shake it out of your mind, even if you don’t consciously mean to. Going about this shady path can mean legal troubles and credibility blows to your career, if you’re not careful. But this doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to be inspired! 

There’s a wrong and right way to be inspired by someone else’s work and I’m going to tell you how. Let’s dive in! 

The wrong way 

You’re a web designer, so learning by looking through other’s work is another day-in-the-life of the job. Creative designers are a rare breed because they’re thoughtfully ingenious and clever, and that’s why we love them so much! That also means there’s a lot of pressure to produce unique and high-performing work. However innocent your intentions might be, there is most definitely a wrong way to be inspired.  

A man and woman sharing web designer ideas.

Flat-out copying the original work 

If you’re a seasoned creative, you really shouldn’t need me to tell you this. Do not copy someone’s original work and write it off as your own. Not only can this be super illegal due to copyright laws, it’s also morally wrong to claim someone else’s hard work as your own. It’s okay to be inspired by someone else, but you need to rework it into your own thing.

Not asking for permission 

Before you do anything related to using someone else’s designs, you need to seek that person out to ask for formal permission to use their work. This will kick-off the process of copyrights and licensing so you’re doing everything by the book (the way it should be)!  

woman writing at a desk

Here’s an example message to seek out permission: 

“Hello [name], 

I came across your work and I absolutely loved it! I’d like to feature it in my [name of work]. What is the process to obtain any necessary permission, copyright, or license to use it?


Not properly citing the original source

This is bringing back a chapter from your school days (I hope!).

You’ve decided you want to put someone else’s original work in your own somewhere. That’s fine, if you’ve got the permission to do so! Depending on if your original work is a blog article or Instagram post, there are many ways to legally cite it like using the copyright symbol, the American Psychological Association citation, tagging the creator on Instagram, etc! Use the original person’s recommendation or use your best discretion to figure out which format is best here. 

The right way 

Yes, there is a right way to go about this whole thing! Not only will doing it “the right way” save you some potential legal trouble, it’ll also make you feel super great that you’re doing everything by the book. So take notes and find new ways to be rightfully moved when seeking and using inspiration. 

a man writes in a notebook

It’s okay to be inspired 

Everyday I find myself inspired and it helps propel me to produce my best work! I’m constantly on Youtube or Pinterest looking for some seeds of inspiration. Oftentimes, I find a good starting point from browsing online and mold it into my own creations. 

As long as you’re not outright copying and publishing the work as your own, don’t feel bad for feeling the way you do! Creative work is such a beautiful thing and it brings people together in the best way possible. Don’t be scared to harness this power! 

Think outside the box 

a man and a woman smile while working together over a laptop

Now that you know it’s okay to be inspired, let’s explore how to take an idea and make it your own! Think about why or what elements make you drawn to someone else’s work. I recommend you really dissect it down to the baseline so you get a true idea of what you can take away for inspiration. Being that you’re a web designer, here’s the part where you let your creativity and imagination soar with ideas. 

If your brain is drawing a blank, try to think back to the basic foundation of art. A few ideas to add your own creative spin would be to change up the color palette, use a different line pattern/weight, try a new brush stroke or edge, and maybe add a unique shape. These ideas should give you a running start but honestly, the possibilities are endless! 

Use multiple resources 

To avoid getting stuck on the same approach and technique, always make sure you go through a variety of sources. Try to pull inspiration from many people and platforms rather than just sticking to one or two sources. I promise it’ll provide more inspiration for you to work with and it’ll ensure that you’re not unintentionally copying someone else’s style! 

To use a variety of resources is to seek many creative outlets for inspiration. You don’t have to stick to digital sources either; find inspiration on your next evening stroll or in a commercial on T.V. Incorporating this strategy is a sure way to diversify your work when you’re pulling from many avenues of inspiration.  

Be transparent and seek feedback

If I’ve used a mood board of inspiration or a specific work of the past to create my current project, I like to preface this when sharing my ideas. I do this so I can be transparent, give verbal credit, and let everyone else see my creative process. 

Feedback is a good way to tell if you’re copying someone else’s work. If you’ve been solely focused on the same thing, then you might not see the copying for what it’s worth. It’s a lot easier for an outside perspective with a fresh pair of eyes to catch the similarities. This is why feedback mechanisms and reviews are so important! 


Indeed, getting inspiration can be a tricky concept. It’s not exactly black and white and that leaves a confusing gray area for you to navigate. I know I’ve been guilty of becoming awestruck from someone else’s work and replicating more than I meant to during my own creative process. It’s an honest mistake, but no matter how innocent the intentions may be, it’s still copying and it needs to be corrected before the final product.

a woman writes on a whiteboard

The beauty of our digitally-engaged lives is that there’s inspiration seeping from every corner and screen around. Develop an eye for detail and allow yourself to see where that thin line between copying and inspiration lies!

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