Inspiration vs. Stealing

May 20, 2013    

What is Inspiration?

Inspiration: Any art, photography, culture, and designs from different cultures and industries; commonly used to inspire, prompt or ignite an idea or thought process. (Often referred to in the design community as “Design Inspiration”)

When it comes time for me to begin a design, I typically begin in the same fashion. My design process always begins with a large amount or research. During this time, I research how other designers have executed projects similar to mine. Then I flow into researching other sources and see what culture, photography and art may be related and influence the overall design. Typically this time is filled with many screen caps and saved images for inspiration.

Screenshot from my tumblr page, filled with many things that inspire me and my designs.

Screenshot from my Tumblr page, filled with many things that inspire me and my designs.

Most of what I save for inspiration is later compiled into my Tumblr page for later reference, and hopefully as an inspiration to others. As I use others work as inspiration, I find myself constantly worried about my designs coming across as me stealing their work. My designs might take the form of mimicking their style, their look, but I always try to make it my own.

What is Stealing?

Stealing: Any unauthorized use of any copyrighted material, infringing the copyright holder’s “exclusive rights”, such as the right to reproduce, distribute, display or perform the copyrighted work. Any work created can/is copyrighted, giving the creator of an original work exclusive rights to it. Giving the creator the “the right to copy”, and be credited for their work.

While I seek inspiration, and encourage others to do the same, there is one thing I try and keep in mind. Figure out what is worth stealing, then take that idea/concept/execution and emulate it in your work. Do not simply copy and paste your inspiration, change the typeface, add a drop shadow and call it your own. Take the idea and make that idea work for you.

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery—celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to.”

– Jim Jarmusch, American Independent Film Director

Example of Design Stealing

If you haven’t heard of Fraser Davidson, you should look him up. He is an amazing director, designer and creative director and does a lot of work in sports branding. I follow him on twitter and ran across one of his tweets where he was calling out another designer on stealing his design.

Left: New England Patriots Logo Redesign, STOLEN by Andrew Frigon (2013)
Right: New Jersey Americans, created by Fraser Davidson (2010)

As you can see from the photo above, there is no inspiration going on in Andrew’s design. He blatantly and deliberately stole the design, altered a few things and called it his own. In an industry so closely knit together by means of the Internet. One must realize that almost anything and everything you post online is either forgotten, or goes unnoticed.

It’s important that when we take inspiration from other’s we take the essence that made it great, change that essence to match our style, and implement it into a design or an idea that is uniquely ours. Our work should stand alone as being uniquely ours, and should not be directly tied back to our inspiration. I want to leave you with a quote by American Artist Marvin Humphrey.

“The biggest inhibitor to making art is the thought that whatever you do must be completely unique. Go ahead and use those techniques you’ve picked up from others; the more work you do, the more your personal, distinct style will develop.”

– Marvin Humphrey, American Artist

In an age where everything has been done before, how can we do anything new? What is the line between referencing inspiration and blatantly stealing someone else’s idea, design or concept? Let me know your thoughts.