My work was recently poached by the good folks at Infobytes in Salt Lake City. That’s the nicest way to say it. Their recent “design” for Brighton Resort is more than inspired by my 2010 design for Squaw Valley USA. It’s a blatant ripoff. If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then consider me highly flattered.

My 2010 design for Squaw Valley's website, next to the recently launched Brighton website.

My 2010 design for Squaw Valley's website, next to the recently launched Brighton website.

I’ve spoken to Brighton, and I believe them when they say they were completely unaware of any copying or wrong-doing. It seems they listed Squaw.com along with several other sites they liked to give Infobytes an idea of their tastes and functionality they liked. I ask for the same thing when starting a project, but I try to come back with something unique, and hopefully better. Instead, Infobytes downloaded the site, the CSS, the markup, the graphics and proceded to make small hackish adjustments accordingly. So I think the real victim here is Brighton, who spent their entire summer and lots of money on something that’s plagiarized.

Before I get into the particulars, let me admit that there are only so many ideas out there, and some overlap is bound to happen. As one friend pointed out to me, my Squaw design looks a lot like Apple.com so maybe I’m to blame as well. But the ski industry is a small, interconnected place where everyone knows each other and takes great pride in competition as well as camaraderie. So it was no surprise when many of my colleagues jumped all over this blatant forgery before I even had seen it. Slopefillers did a great job of documenting the similarities within hours of its launch, in their post Ski Resort Websites: 7 Before & Afters from 2011′s New Designs.

As Slopefillers showed you, the dimensions and graphic effects are completely derivative.

As Slopefillers showed you, the dimensions and graphic effects are completely derivative.

But to say that they’re similar is an understatement. With the exception of Infobytes’ hackish rendering, they’re cut from the same mould altogether.

  • The hero images are completely the same dimensions, although Infobytes hasn’t cropped them to center the subject within the allotted space. They’re also embedded as background images using the same class names as Squaw.com.
  • The hero images are also served using the same php script which was developed by Chris Petty specifically for Squaw.
  • The ghosted scenic images in the background are treated using the same layer blending modes, the same opacity, and the same gradient masks as mine.
  • The dimensional shadows in the footer are blurred and warped to the exact same specification, creating a lifted corner effect. That’s no accident!
  • The navigation bar has the same height, width, gradient, beveling treatment, dividers and type treatment. IN FACT, if you were to examine the code (at the time of this blog post) you’d even see that the navigation and headers all call for Futura Bold, which we embedded on Squaw.com using @font-face. Brighton doesn’t use Futura, but my code is still there.
  • The navigation menus use the same columnar structure, the same unordered list styling, the same background images dividing navigation from promotional content.
  • The content level pages use the same background image technique with the same fade-out heights and same opacity, the same content overlay design, and the same sidebar design although in reverse.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

I spoke to the designer responsible for this hack job at Infobytes and she had no idea what to say. I asked if she thought no one would notice. She said, well the client sent me a list of sites they liked and I just “took it from there”. I said I usually get a list of preferred sites from my clients too but I don’t copy them. It’s just to get a sense of their personal taste. By the end of the call, she said she’d change everything right away. I reminded her that that’s not her call and that she should consult with her client and own up to what she’d done. So THAT was a fun conversation.

Squaw is aware of the situation and they had the same reaction I did. IE: “WOW, that’s blatant!” But with their recent changes, they may have bigger fish to fry at the moment. The bottom line is that Brighton and Squaw will work this out amicably, without a doubt.