Inspiration or Plagiarism?

Claiming to have had digital designs ripped off or plagiarised is a potential car crash, it can be very hard to prove unless there is a like for like match and as things stand I am not claiming or blaming anyone of this.

This article could turn into the proverbial car crash

The following article is going to compare and contrast the recent redesign of a feature on the website of an automotive industry based company turning over billions of pounds a year to a design produced by an actively tracked ex-employee of 5 years of this company (me) that was published to Dribbble earlier this year.

I will provide an insight to my design and the functionality based within this concept, why I believe there is grounds to believe that employee(s) of this company could have used my design, comparisons with other websites within the automotive industry, the history of the same function on the company in question’s website and why the similarities and timing are a little too coincidental for my liking.

Copyright

A quick introduction to copyright law from Digital Arts…

“…in the UK and most other parts of the world, you automatically hold copyright in your original works of art. You do not need to get approval from the Intellectual Property Office in order to protect your work unless you are filing a lawsuit. The copyright owner has the right to prevent others from copying the work, issuing copies, renting or lending the work, and/or showing the work to the public. In the UK, copyright protection usually lasts for up to 70 years from the date of the death of the creator of the work.”
“There is no copyright in an idea or style. There’s only copyright in the composition of an image — how it’s laid out, the way it’s drawn and the way it’s designed…”

http://www.digitalartsonline.co.uk/

Let’s break this down, from Google — “composition is the placement or arrangement of visual elements as distinct from the subject of a work.”

From Wikipedia — “In graphic design for press and desktop publishing composition is commonly referred to as page layout

Also from Wiki — “Page layout is the part of graphic design that deals in the arrangement of visual elements on a page.”

My Design

The design I produced was published to Dribbble with the following description…

A little something I’ve designed for fun to keep my hand busy outside of the office. This is the hero banner for a premium used car website that specialises in private sale second hand super cars.
The search function has been made as simple as possible, the user would pick a make, a model, set their budget and go.
My design

I published this design to Dribbble on March 15, 2016. I am not claiming that the idea for a single row search is mine nor the style of placing these elements over a large background image is mine but given the description of the image I published with the design, especially the emphasised area, as an insight to how this search would theoretically work and the description of how UK copyright laws work, the page layout would be my copyright.

I’ve not even mentioned highlighting the number of cars available.

“Their” design

I first saw the latest incarnation of the Arnold Clark search bar on Wednesday 8th June 2016.

The Arnold Clark car search as of at least Wednesday 8th June 2016

I think it is very fair to say that this website not only reflects the visual layout of my design but also the description of the functionality that I published with the design.

…the user would pick a make, a model, set their budget and go

The last Way Back When update for the Arnold Clark website was snapped on April 22nd 2016.

Last recorded update of ArnoldClark.com on Waybackmachine is 22 April 2016

Here is the archived design of the ArnoldClark.com home page search feature last snapped by Way Back Machine on 22nd April 2016

Screenshot taken from waybackmachine rendering of ArnoldClark.com — some styling will be missing

Below is a screenshot of the Arnold Clark website from the tail end of 2014 as taken from a post on the company’s newsroom, this provides a better insight into how the above would be rendered. (http://www.arnoldclark.com/newsroom/650-arnold-clark-ends-the-year-on-a-high-with-tradeouts-award)

This image was taken from a post on the Arnold Clark Newsroom in December 2014

These screenshots above show the massive step the company has taken to move from a stacked multi-input search similar to that of Auto Trader and Motor Point to a design that is very, very close to a concept I published on a social media website earlier this year.

So what am I claiming?

What I’m not claiming:
• not claiming to have ‘created’ or designed the first one row search feature
• not claiming that a one row search feature isn’t a tech standard across multiple industries
• not claiming that the labels I have used are not industry standard
• not claiming the grid used is not of industry standard

What I am claiming:
• the company uses Google Alerts to keep track of current and previous employees activities online and as a result of this would have been made aware of my car search design 
• employees of this company follow me on other social media channels and would also have been made aware of this design 
• the company have not used an other motor industry leading used car search as inspiration to produce this idea (examples below)
• the company has used Min Price and Max Price inputs for at least the past 8 years, making the timing of this change massively coincidental
• Timing of change, speed of delivery is reflected in the user experience (3 inputs hidden within 1 purely for aesthetic reasons)

I admit the Google Alerts thing is a bit of a shocker and possibly far fetched to believe but I was made privy to this information from other members of staff that witnessed this happening after I had left the company in the tail end of 2011.

Car Search Design Examples

Here I want to compare the design I produced to other leading motor industry websites that feature a car search feature within the hero area of their home page.

My Design 
https://dribbble.com/shots/2589965-Car-Search-Website-Concept

My concept, 3 inputs followed by a button to commit the search
Auto Trader uses a stacked car search
A one row search bar, but couldn’t be considered ‘the same’ as my design
A more typical used car search layout, stacked drop downs centred over a ‘hero’ background
A single row search feature that uses a more industry accepted ‘Min Price’ and ‘Max Price’ labels for inputs
A more simplified stacked search
A single row search check, 3 inputs, check, a search button, check…

Mine Again

Since the uploading of my shot to Dribbble in March this year, has the company in question simply taken inspiration from my concept to redesign their search feature or is there more to it than that?

Worth noting

As I previously touched on, the ArnoldClark.com website search content before this latest update, reflected a design standard that they have used for at least 8 years, a stacked search function that is more similar to the Motor Point and Car Craft examples above.

Screenshot taken from waybackmachine rendering of ArnoldClark.com — some styling will be missing

Options that have been removed completely from the above example:
• Input to show all cars/new cars/used cars etc.
• Cars near (with free key input)
• Option to show cars with images only

Options that have been modified:
• Search by Cash Price/Pay Monthly now hidden
• Minimum input now hidden
• Maximum input now hidden

Whilst I am not comparing additional pages within the website or indeed how the sites render on tablets and mobile devices (namely because my mockup is a single screen desktop composition) it should be noted that all of these inputs noted above (plus more) return once you have submitted your search and find yourself on the results page.

This is a feature that has won the company numerous motor industry awards since 2008 for best used car search and I find the timing of the change made to their home page too coincidental to be simply that, a coincidence.

So where did the inspiration to change the search function on their home page come from? A Google Alert like the one below?

…or a tweet like this perhaps?

In Conclusion

I have not accused Arnold Clark’s design team of anything as I am sure that there are people involved in the process who will not have seen the design concept I uploaded to the Dribbble website.

The information I have provided above does not lay blame at the door of any group of people nor one person in particular, what I have done is publish information on the design I produced plus a history of the search on the company’s home page. Whether they have plagiarised the design or simply taken inspiration from it I don’t know but due to the timing of this redesign and my previous employment at the company, is it simply a coincidence or is there more to it? I’ll leave this for you to decide. One thing I do know is that there’s an inbox pinging with Google Alerts notifications right now.

If you have been in a situation similar to mine, I’d love to hear your story and how it was resolved.