Painter Pablo Picasso once said, “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.” This has never been more true than today.

Many outsiders believe that designers are unicorns, gifted or special in some way. We have an innate ability to create gorgeous interfaces, a natural talent for matching complementary colors, an unexplainable intuition for building beautiful typography. None of this is true. Becoming a great designer actually takes years of hard work, experimentation, and failure.

The problem with unicorn thinking is that it makes design seem unattainable to people who are interested, but don’t see themselves as creative types. I’ve met many programmers and people in tech who are convinced they can’t get into design because of this. But they can turn these mental blocks into building blocks with a simple mindset shift. Instead of looking at other designers’ work with envy, think of it as the key to your success.

In fact, interactive design has a lot in common with the open source software community: You can master it by stealing and copying from the best of the best. And make no mistake: These are the top designers in the world, from places like Dropbox, Facebook, and Palantir.

How do I know it works? Because it worked for me.

Designers are made, not born. Learn Pablo Picasso’s secret for taking your skills from good to great.

The Parallels Between GitHub & Dribbble

When I started learning design, I was amazed by the sheer amount of code that’s out there and can be used for free—open source software has a market share of about 80 percent. The best part is you can modify it and see what happens, which accelerates your learning. GitHub has every single plugin and code snippet you can imagine, anything from a jQuery dropdown to a CSS framework and much more.

Dribbble’s rebound feature is the closest thing we have in the design industry to GitHub’s “forking,” or downloading any piece of open source software and making it your own.

It’s the best way to hone your skills. Go to Dribbble, check out your favorite UIs, and try to copy them pixel for pixel. You can add your own twist and then rebound it to give credit to the original designer. Let’s look at some examples of how designers have used the rebound feature.

Paul Flavius Nechita designed this original shot and provided a free PSD, so anyone in the Dribbble community could use it.



That motivated Artem Borodynya to create this really cool screen for credit-card processing.



Wayne Spiegel from Palantir had long wanted to improve Apple Pay’s UI. Inspired by Borodyna’s rebound, he created this shot, where the user chooses the desired card from a flywheel.



In this example, Smenan created a cool paper shredder graphic.



And Hanna Jung from Google added animations to it.



This is Brandon Termini’s innovative take on a menu system for a technology company’s web site. Adding a shot like this to Dribbble really pushes the design community to move out of their comfort zone and be more imaginative.



Termini’s work inspired Ilya Kostin to take a different approach to create this elegant interface.





Anggit Yuniar Pradito designed an awesome smart home application that gives every room its own profile.



Then Ibnu Mas’ud streamlined and simplified the UI to make it even more intuitive. Many other designers on Dribbble rebounded it too, all with different interpretations. If you ever get hired to design a smart home automation app, you know where to start.



The Dribbble community loved the simplicity of this energy usage chart, designed by Kingyo.



Alex Pronsky improved on the original by adding a frosted glass effect, soft shadows, and vintage color scheme, and then gave away the PSD for the community to use for free.



When Dropbox joined Dribbble, the company made the announcement with this graphic.



Which promoted the community to rebound this shot over 200 times. It’s amazing how certain shots spark creativity in the community. This one by Jory Raphael was one of my favorites.



Awesomed designed this really cool web dashboard …



… which inspired George Vasyagin to redesign it with bright new colors.



Kevin Kalde designed this simple but appealing recipe widget.



Then, Ididi built on his design by adding environmental elements.



Ramakrishna V designed these switches.



And then Tsuriel brought them to life.



When you copy someone else’s design work, you have to pick it apart in order to understand it and apply it to your particular project. Otherwise, the design just won’t work, or it will seem out of place. Copying effectively teaches you to do it the right way. Nail the basics, and innovate where it makes sense.

If you want to be a great designer, don’t delay and don’t doubt yourself. Go to Dribbble and follow designers whose work you admire. Pick your favorite shots and start copying. Do it over and over and you’ll develop and hone your skills over time. Eventually, you’ll be able to do the same things your favorite designers can do.

“Rebound the shit out of everything.”—Michael Abehsera

About the author

Michael Abehsera, United States
member since December 15, 2015
Michael is a UI/UX designer and front-end developer originally from Israel and France. He specializes in designing landing pages and user interfaces. In addition, his background in marketing and data analysis helps him make better decisions in landing page designs and user interface construction. [click to continue...]
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Comments

Andrew Graunke
Great resources, Michael! I'd love to see a rebound of this post..
GiuMagnani
Really great post! Thank you!!
Guillermo Torrigino
I remember i asked one of my best professors at the University : "Hey! look at this guys, they are great, look what they have done, it´s amazing. How could that be possible?". He look at me with a smile on his face and said: "They copy from a place better than yours" :P Excellent article Michael, congrats!
Luciano
I absolutely think that we should reuse as many interaction and design patterns out there as we can. People get caught up sometimes on the desire to be creative and make something unique, but sometimes I feel like we try and be too creative, often to the detriment of our users. If there is a design out there that works really well and users love it, why not use the exact same thing in whatever you're designing?
rdenadai
Interesting Post... I, from time to time, kept thinking about design and where to find Great inspiration... Never Heard of Dribbble, but sure Will check it out to learn more and get more inspiration... P.S.: Im Just a backend developer trying to get more understand about something thats very important when trying to comunicate something to someone. UI + UX.
Peter D Munro
I agree. One designer mentioned in Slashdot how their company had tried many different A/B designs for Poker. The classic design always brought the best money returns. Design is the servant of function - I think people often want what is instantly recognisable. We develop habits so that don't have to think about certain aspects of what we do everyday. If every time we jumped in the car we found the various controls rearranged, our driving would be seriously compromised. We don't want to have think about where the turn indicator or the brakes are. We want to be able to do things instinctively from habit. So yes, I support your advocacy of standard interaction and design patterns. I always expect to find the "Login" button in the top right corner of the page. I don't want to have to spend time searching for it elsewhere.
Luciano
You're exactly right. They are established patterns for a reason. People have certain mental models based on their past interactions with habits and just like you said they are already in the habit of handling it a certain way. So why break those patterns that work for the sake of creativity! :)
A mí no me pagan por opinar
"[...]Interactive design has a lot in common with the open source software community: You can master it by stealing and copying from the best of the best." Do you really think open source software developers are "stealing and copying"? Because even suggesting that is utterly ridiculous.
Miguel Angel Salinas Gancedo
With frameworks like the google material specification and implementations like angular-material, the design is becoming in a mechanical process
nahum yamin
Thanks for reminding me how I've picked up my basic skills of design when I just started. I should go back and do more of that. However, while I do appriciete the art of stealing, I think that an important point to make about it is that this is a great way to learn techniques and styles to execute a design problems but it should not come instead of a honest process that aim to solve the unique design problem you have in front of you. Do it to develop your skills, style and technique. Do not use it as a tool or process - a better way will be to research and understand the problem first (As a side note I also recommend reading "Steal Like An Artist" - by Austin Kleon on the sae subject).
Vivek Singh
DISAGREE..you can't become a master designer by copying other people stuff.It is like you copy in exam and pass.But will it make you a master in that subject..Answer is NO...Taking inspiration is another thing.But when you work professionally you encounter new challenges everyday.
Michael Abehsera
Hey Vivek, It's not the same as copying math test results for example. You're actually learning new tricks in PS/Sketch when you try to copy something pretty intricate, including learning the thinking behind the idea of the original designer. If you practice this over and over again, you will actually get good at picking colors, creating great aesthetics, and learn how to create solid UI flows since you are imitating the best.
Michael Abehsera
I've never heard of that book and I just purchased it. Looks pretty cool and got amazing reviews on amazon :) Anyways, I agree with you, the "stealing" aspect will help you become from a skill perspective the best (skill as in being able to do intricate stuff with PS/Sketch), but then after that you actually need to push designs live, A/B test, learn from analytics and real users on what works and what doesn't. One doesn't replace the other, they are both important skills.
Michael Abehsera
I didn't suggest that. What I am showing is that yes, just like in GitHub you can fork something, download a CSS framework for example and make it your own. You can take a "design shot" and make it your own while crediting the original author. It draws the same parrales, don't you agree?
Michael Abehsera
I agree in general, but sometimes big sites need to do redesign to get new customers and "refresh" their brand. It just sucks that sometimes they put aesthetic first over function, and end up complicating things for the same of making it look good.
Luciano
Exactly. And I'm good with redesigning something to give it a fresh look but a redesign should never be to the detriment of usability. There are plenty of established patterns out there that look good and are easy to use. I just think sometimes people get carried away with trying to create a "cool, new" interaction that doesn't perform well. And I think it is because a lot of the time, stakeholders think a redesign just entails making something look better, when it's about improving function just as much as it is about improving form.
Michael Abehsera
Yep I agree :)
Vivek Singh
Then don't say the word STEAL....Say get Inspired.You cannot justify stealing for anything in the world.
Michael Abehsera
Vivek, it's a figure of speech, it's also based on the famous quote "Good artists copy. Great artists steal.". It doesn't mean you're going to someone's house and stealing their artwork, just means you're copying, getting inspired and learning in the process.
Dmitri Kara
In fact quite an inspiring read here. Thank you
Optimal Quon
this is the second time your point is misunderstood.. haha.. I'm beginning to wonder if it is a language/cultural/idiom kind of thing... figure of speech can be confusing if not from the same culture/language... hmmmm... anyway.. excellent post. thanks for sharing!
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About the author
Michael Abehsera
Designer
Michael is a UI/UX designer and front-end developer originally from Israel and France. He specializes in designing landing pages and user interfaces. In addition, his background in marketing and data analysis helps him make better decisions in landing page designs and user interface construction.