“Just copy our competitors design”
One of the worst experiences I ever had as a graphic designer was when I had someone approached me who wanted a website created for them. They didn't only have a website they wanted to create, they had a specific website they wanted me to recreate: their competitors.
To top it off, they loved everything about that website, right down to the last pixel. It should be pretty obvious that plagiarizing and ripping someone else's design off is a no go. I made sure they knew as much. I wouldn't be doing this kind of work for them.
They were frustrated with my response, because they didn't understand why it was such a big deal. It's probably no surprise to you that I said “no” and walked away.
I was frustrated by the experience because I view design (and still view design) as something that should be taken seriously. Design should take care of your own needs and not your competition.
If you do find yourself in this situation and you're a bit luckier, in that the person is willing to listen, you may be able to reframe what they're asking for.
Going back to the design they like, there's probably something specific about it they actually like. If you dig deep, you'll find that that people don't actually love them 100%. There's an element or a feature of the design that they really like. And that's what they're after.
To some people, that element means the whole thing. It's worth diving a little bit deeper and finding out if that's what the case is, or if they're just being that obtuse about what they want.
Usually, when a client needs a website, they have a specific set of needs for themselves. This isn't always the same as a competitors needs. It's difficult to know what the competitors needs were—unless you a worked for that competitor or they were openly and freely telling everybody in the world what they were after (unlikely).
This is the benefit to diving into the details. Sometimes, that design element can be brought in, if it fits with their goals. Sometimes it doesn't. In most cases, what the client actually needed was something that didn't look like their favorite design at all. It's easy to understand their enthusiasm though. It's really easy to get excited about the design process. We see this a lot, as designers. People get excited about the final product. How will it look? What colors will be used? Which font do you get to pick? It's more exciting than talking about marketing plans, SEO, or strategy. There's little to no visiual feedback that they can point to.
So we have to temper expectations and get the client to understand that while design is excitng, there's a lot of steps before we put pen to paper or start passing around concepts.
It's funny to see how suprirsed a client can be when I mention that design occurs closer towards the end of a design process. Good design needs planning and strategy in order for it to be effective. How will it meet their needs, and how will their customers respond to it?
But back to the original scenario: if a client still insist that they want a design copied and they're not going to budge from, it's the easiest red flag that you'll ever find. It's also the the easiest potential client that you'll ever say no to. There's no shame in saying no. At the end of the day, it's not a project worth taking on. It's not a headache worth having. Most importantly, it's not worth the legal hassle that ends up finding its way into these types of projects.