Imitiation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

[Originally posted on The Farm. I thought this might be of more general interest since it’s about design.]

The web application frameworks Rails, Django and Symfony not

only have the same general approach to their frameworks, they also

have the same general look on the banners of their webpages. These

frameworks all follow the what The Pragmatic Programmer called the DRY

— Don’t Repeat Yourself — principle, but that principle doesn’t rule

out repeating others!

Screen capture: Banner of the Rails site.

Screen capture: Banner of the Django site.

Screen capture: Banner of the Symfony site.

5 replies on “Imitiation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery”

I guess since the Rails site came first, that makes the rest of us copycats?

I’ll certainly admit to spending a lot of time with the Rails site while we were launching a site for Django. Whether you’re a fan or not, promotion is one thing Rails has been unequivocally successful at, and I was very interested in how their site contributed to that success.

As far as imitation, I’m not sure that’s what’s going on here. We’re talking about two key similarities here as far as I can tell: taglines and navigation.

All three taglines are simple and to the point. They do what good taglines should: define the product and the who or what it’s for. You can read the tagline and have a good idea if you’re interested or not. It’s not original, but it’s bullshit-free. Which is a good thing especially when you’re talking to programmers.

Same goes for the navigation. All three websites are dealing with similar subjects, so the basic elements are going to be similar. I’ve got an open-source project, I’m going to need an intro page so people can get the idea, a prominent link to download so people can get the software, a prominent link to documentation so people can actually use it, a place for me as the developer to communicate to the community, a place for the community to communicate with each other, and a place for people to contribute code. All three sites cover those priorities pretty cleanly. No need to reinvent the wheel.

So these are three sites for similar products designed to solve similar problems and targeted to similar audiences. And it’s surprising that they look similar? Cute, but I don’t really see your point.



Hello, Wilson!

I am, as they often say in mobster movies, “jus’ breakin’ everyone’s balls a little”. I’m not so much accusing anyone of unoriginality as pointing out a trend in open source project website design.

I must point out that the similarities run a little deeper than just taglines and navigation. There’s a similar design sensibility common to all three sites:

  • A clean, polished look with mild gradients
  • Navigation bars with nearly identical items in nearly identical locations
  • Similar layouts on the main page
  • A movie showing how easy it is to get up and running

You’ve mentioned that open source projects have similar needs, but consider the variance in design in the sites for some of the most popular open source projects:

All open source projects. All very different looking.

But also all freakin’ ugly.

In the end, I like the trend started by the Rails, Django and Symfony frameworks’ pages — in addition to raising the bar for what one should expect from web app frameworks, they also raise the bar for what one should expect from the site, both in terms of aesthetics and amenities. I also think that over time, there will be a bit more variety in the designs of these pages.

I’ll tell you my personal secret about gradients and drop shadows. They’re extremely handy shortcuts to making a design I just spent all of 2 hours on look “polished” 🙂

What does it say about me that I use them both far too much?

You’re right that most open source projects suffer from ugly-itis. Maybe this is the beginning of a trend. A pretty trend.

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