As most of you know I'm a huge Joomla! fan and we use the Joomla! framework to build most of our clients' sites. You may also know that my background and passion is in design. I'm constantly looking for examples of Joomla! sites with good, unique design, content and functionality. I'm also a firm believer that Joomla! can effectively be used for any kind of site from personal to corporate to community.
I was excited when I started seeing the mass tweets (Twitter posts for the layman) from the Joomla! community about the new Linux.com website being built with Joomla!. Sure, Linux is open source so being built in Joomla! doesn't really come as a surprise, but none-the-less it's LINUX! That's a great testament to Joomla!.
When I fist saw the new Linux.com site I thought, "wow the design isn't very original." I was a bit disappointed. The more I looked at it, the more I realized it was very familiar but I still couldn't put my finger on it. Then I landed on an article from ThinkVitamin.com, a well known resource for all that's web.
Linux.com is not just similar to ThinkVitamin.com—it's a direct copy down to some of the most subtle design elements.
Take for example the masthead and the navigation. Now the hex colors of the oranges are different, but I don't think that would hold up in court. From the thin stroke across the bottom of the top navigation to the gradient and dividing lines of the main navigation, they are identical.
That not enough? How about the drop down menus?
I decided to do some research, and it didn't take the skill set of Sherlock Holmes to find what I was looking for. ThinkVitamin.com clearly advertises "Fresh News Theme by WooThemes" in its footer and looking at the code for Linux.com shows its template directory as "ja_vauxite". I didn't know what "ja_vauxite" was, but thanks to a tweet from Cory Webb (@corywebb) I learned that it's from a template club, Joomlart.
Who was first? Who copied who? Why does this matter?
ThinkVitamin.com has archived posts dating back to April, 2006, and well, the new Linux.com site launched just a few days ago. Now I'm no chronological genius and I tend not to know what day it is, but even I can see that the egg, or should I say the Vitamin came first in this case.
Why does this matter? It's all about branding (or legal issues if you look at the negative side). The business world, specifically the web, is saturated with competition and branding is what sets you apart and makes you memorable. It differentiates and validates. Unique design focused on your culture and audience is the cornerstone of good branding.
Here's what really gets me. Both of these sites are fairly large and extremely popular in their industry—why would they use templates from a template club? I'm not saying that by being large sites they automatically have tons of money to spend on professional web design, and yes, I do realize ThinkVitamin.com is a side project of Carsonified which was probably unfunded.
I can see the reasons for ThinkVitamin.com using a template club—no budget, a side project they probably wanted to get up quickly, and I'm sure Carsonified was busy busting out killer designs for their clients. What I can't see is the reason for Linux.com using a template club. Linux has a huge, growing community/user base with no signs of decline. Maybe they didn't have the budget to pay a professional web design company, but surely they have users who are great designers (or know a great designer). They could have paid someone a fair price to design a unique site that helped define the Linux brand.
So what's the whole point of this post? At first I was just disappointed that Linux.com seemed to have blatantly copied the web design of ThinkVitamin.com, but the more I thought about it the more I realized how often branding and design take a back-seat or don't get to ride at all.