Levels of visual design inspiration
These are in order, from best to worst.
See a design and it inspires something else
Sometimes a design is the fuel for another fire. You see a design, it sparks something in your head, and leads you to design something new. This is inspiration, but whatever you make does not look like what you originally saw.
Use a visual design approach that you don’t realise is inspired
It’s common for people who make things to be inspired by things and not know it. You might see a visual design, appreciate it, and then put it out of your mind. Six years later you need to design something and an idea comes to mind. It’s based on the design you saw six years ago, but you’re not aware of that.
Mash two or more designs together
Just like fusion food, you can take two or more visual styles and mash them together. The result is not the same as either of the two originals. It’s got elements of both, but their interaction makes new things as well.
Use the layout patterns, change the style
In simple terms, the elements in a visual design are laid out in certain patterns, and have certain styles applied to them. You can use the layout patterns from another design, but apply a different style to them. The style is often what we consider to be the identity of a visual design, so this approach doesn’t feel as much of a copy.
Tweak a visual design in a noticeable way
Imagine you took a black-and-white design and applied colour. The colour makes a noticeable difference. This is a relatively easy way to take another visual design and change it so that it feels different enough.
Use the style, change the layout patterns
If you really like a visual style you might not want to change it at all. In this case, it’s common to more or less take the style as it is, but change the layout patterns used in the design. At least it’s different in some way.
Use the same layout patterns and style
Finally, you can copy everything about a visual design. Your content will be different, and so the designs will not look identical side-by-side. But it will be clear to anyone who compares them that one is a copy of the other.