The Great Mozilla Debacle

This whole Mozilla thing has been a wild ride. We were floored by the posts on Daring Fireball, TechCrunch, and HackerNews, and read each and every comment.

We spent some time on the phone with the team at Mozilla last night, and we’ve cleared the air. We also heard from John Lilly, their CEO, via Twitter within hours. They made an apologetic post on their blog and said that they are “actively investigating how this happened to ensure that it does not happen again”. I’m still unclear on how such a blatant copycat could get featured in their launch in the first place, especially after more than a month in the wild, but they have since removed all screenshots and video clips that showed our work, and recent Jetpack builds feature a new design. We’re happy with how this has been resolved, and were impressed by Mozilla’s quick response.

Why did we make a big stink?

This really rubbed us the wrong way. There is a big difference between being inspired by a design and outright theft. I’ll admit that a great deal of our work is heavily inspired by other designers. In fact, it would be downright impossible to find a designer whose work isn’t at least somewhat derivative of others. I spent months deconstructing Apple’s aqua buttons when I was first learning Photoshop, and our whole team is constantly scouring inspiration galleries for interesting new interface trends. But something happens when you recreate something on your own: it grows organically. You build your own style and invariably create something new - even if it’s just a minor evolution. When you copy elements outright, you don’t gain anything from the experience. You don’t grow as a designer, you don’t build on the style, and you feel shitty about it. Not to mention the fact that you will undoubtably get busted at some point, and even publicly humiliated.

The worst part is, this stuff happens all the time. Big Spaceship had their portfolio carbon copied earlier this week. Tim Van Damme is constantly having people hijack his designs. Even Microsoft has pulled this stuff. In our case, it was just too much. Typically when this happens, we have a chuckle, get in touch, and hear them out. It’s often the case of a rogue designer they contracted, or a student trying to learn our styles - no need to make a big stink. The Mozilla situation, on the other hand, was the perfect storm. They know who we are, they are a massive company, and we had even bid on the project. It was too much.

A lot of people argued that it was only a mockup and hadn’t been used in any live builds. Our design was featured in their demo video, in screenshots on the website, and shown as a design direction in their wiki for months. Imagine if Microsoft had previewed the SDK for their Windows phone platform and all the marketing materials, press releases, and video demos, showed elements of Apple’s iPhone UI. Of course, there’s a reason for everything: “the iPhone UI was only used during development to help us scope out the feature set”, “it was one of our interns, we had no idea”, “it was never going to be released”. People would start throwing things.

Regardless of the reasons why this happened, it doesn’t change the fact that we got ripped off and that’s not okay. We’re glad that we were able to resolve this amicably, and we hope this will ensure that this sort of thing won’t happen in the future.


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    Mozilla and MetaLab cleared the air.
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